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The Meadows Blog

A Meaningful Job

Michael Crawley - Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Employment is a crucial part of every person’s life. Obviously, the financial reward for working is necessary to sustain ourselves - but, in reality, being employed is much more than that.

Most of us identify with our jobs. And, whether it’s right or wrong, other people form at least part of their opinion about us based on the kind of work we do. When you consider that employment occupies a major portion of our lives, its significance cannot be denied.

This is just as true for individuals with developmental disabilities. They want to have a meaningful job that will allow them to reach their potential. But before that can happen, they have to be given the opportunity to work.

That is why our nonprofit exists. We offer employment and vocational training to men and women with intellectual and physical challenges. These are individuals who, through no fault of their own, are frequently overlooked in the job market.

Unfortunately, these adults are typically judged by their diagnosis rather than by their humanity. Too often, potential employers fail to see past the particular challenges that an individual has.

But the Meadows is different. Because we value the worth of every person regardless of their disability, we’re committed to providing a safe and positive environment while delivering the support needed so they can perform their jobs to the best of their ability.

For the men and women, we proudly employ, work is far more than just a way to earn money. It gives them a sense of inclusion. It provides purpose, and it allows them to discover abilities that they never knew they had.

The fact that these adults are successfully employed is an example of what people with developmental disabilities can accomplish. The general public gets to see first-hand the quality of their work, and the entire community benefits.

Of course, there are many types of employment. Some jobs are uplifting and some can be drudgery. Just because there is a paycheck attached to a particular activity doesn’t magically bestow it with meaning for the person who has to carry it out.

Individuals with developmental disabilities want to spend their day engaged in tasks that challenge them and build their confidence. They want to have goals they can strive for. They want to be part of an organization where they are valued.

Our nonprofit meets all of those criteria. The men and women who work with us, earn the respect of their coworkers and our customers. As they progress and gain experience, they attempt increasingly complex assignments. Each step of the way, they’re given the instruction and assistance needed to become proficient at their jobs.

However, it is important to understand that employment for adults in our organization is not what the public is accustomed to. Work requires a deeper level of focus when you can only use one hand. Tasks take on a different perspective when mobility and balance issues must be addressed to ensure a person’s safety. Mastering vocational skills become more complicated when dealing with short term memory loss or sensory issues. And the difficulty of maintaining your concentration is magnified when you are at risk of having a seizure at any moment. 

And yet, these are the types of challenges our employees deal with every day.

But despite the fact that such circumstances are an irreversible part of their lives, these men and women take great satisfaction in their jobs. They are eager to come to work because they know their efforts will be acknowledged and appreciated.

Too often positive feedback has been lacking in their lives. That’s why, for a person who has been repeatedly discouraged in their efforts to find steady employment, eventually being hired has tremendous meaning for them and their families.

It is not by accident that the name of our nonprofit explains our mission.

We are the Meadows Center for Opportunity, and it is our privilege to work with such incredible men and women.

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It is an undeniable fact that human beings have always been willing to pass judgment and jump to conclusions about people who they believe are different from them. Unfortunately, this is particularly true when it comes to individuals with developmental disabilities.

These negative perceptions occur because we allow our emotions to guide our thinking instead of seeking the truth which can require effort and an open mind. Consequently, we are quick to label people with challenges and to categorize them for our own convenience. We fail to understand that no two people are the same and that each individual has their own personality and character. But we are, unfortunately, eager to form an opinion about their life without knowing a thing about them.


Here are five common situations that we are all familiar with. In each case, you encounter a person you think cannot possibly be a productive member of society.

You are shopping at the mall when two individuals walk past you. Suddenly one of them collapses with a seizure. You watch in shock as the convulsions run their course. Certain that the person lives in terror with the knowledge that a seizure could occur at any moment, you feel great sympathy for them. You assume their quality of life is compromised and that because of their epilepsy they cannot accomplish anything of significance.

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You are eating at a restaurant when a person comes in with another adult. You can’t help but stare as they follow their hostess to their table. The individual has partial paralysis on one side of their body and there is visible scarring that indicates that they have endured multiple surgeries. The person walks with a pronounced limp, and you can see that their arm is immobile. You can’t imagine how they make it through the day living with those kinds of issues.

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You are waiting to check out at the store. The individual in front of you is trying to communicate with the cashier, but their speech is extremely difficult to understand. The people behind you become impatient as the person struggles to convey their thoughts to the cashier who just wants them to move along and get out of the way. You feel great pity for the individual as you wonder what kind of “affliction” could’ve caused their inability to communicate clearly.

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You are in line to buy a ticket for a movie when an individual standing with their mother becomes agitated about something. Very quickly the person’s behavior escalates and they begin to yell as they lose control of their emotions. Their mother tries to help them calm down, but she is not successful in getting the person to relax. You and others watch with silent disapproval as you harshly judge her lack of parenting skills for allowing this to happen in public.

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You are waiting for an elevator. The doors open and a person carefully steps out pushing a walker. Their balance is precarious and their legs seem stiff and rigid. It is obvious that they would not be able to walk without the assistive device. You suspect their life is limited in countless ways because of their lack of mobility, and you can’t help thinking it would be better for them to stop trying to walk altogether and to just use a wheelchair.

What do these five people have in common?...... Yes, they each have a disability. Yes, it affects certain areas of their lives, and yes, their diagnosis is often used to unfairly define them. But what might surprise you is one other thing that they have in common. Something positive. Something meaningful. Something that deserves to be acknowledged.

All of these individuals are successfully employed at the Meadows.

Along with almost forty other men and women with intellectual challenges, these five individuals work each day at a variety of jobs that not only provide them with a hard-earned paycheck but also build self-esteem and self-confidence. They learn vocational skills, but, even more importantly, they are given every opportunity to reach their personal potential.

But when these same individuals go out in public, people rush to judge them based on nothing more than appearances. That kind of narrow-mindedness is unfair and unjust.

Obviously, there is an important lesson that must be learned.

When we encounter a person with an intellectual, physical or emotional challenge, we should treat them just like we would anyone else. They deserve to be understood and accepted for who they are as a person. They deserve to be treated with dignity. They deserve to be respected.

The men and women we proudly employ are perfect examples of what people with developmental disabilities can achieve in a positive work setting that offers support and encouragement.

The truth is simple. Every person, regardless of what their challenges happen to be, has the right to live their best life.

That is what our employees do every day.


 
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The Meadows
Center for Opportunity

1000 South Kelly
Edmond, Oklahoma
73003-6081

phone: 405.348.4470
fax: 405.340.5395