For those of you who are familiar with the Meadows, you know that on this blog we focus primarily on intellectual challenges. That is because each of the men and women we employ has an IQ of 70 or less, which is the state’s criteria of determining a developmental disability.
However, many of the adults who work with us also live with physical challenges. Because this form of disability is typically more visible, it can elicit a variety of responses from the public, including sympathy, pity and the belief that to live with such a challenge is somehow “inspiring”.
But our employees simply face their physical issues as part of their lives. Nothing more or less. They do not dwell on the fact that they use a walker for their balance, or that they need leg braces for strength and stability. They are not concerned that they utilize a wheelchair for long distances. It is just part of their life. They accept it and move on.
Physical challenges can occur for many different reasons. Everything from being born with cerebral palsy to having a stroke, brain tumor or traumatic brain injury can all result in paralysis, muscle weakness, lack of coordination, and neurological impairment.
Every one of these issues is experienced by at least some of the individuals we employ. But each day, with patience and perseverance, they are able to do their jobs despite the particular challenges they face. They are not trying to be inspirational; they are just attempting to do their work to the best of their ability.
Obviously, living with physical challenges can add complexity and stress to everyday life. Many of the things that you and I take for granted, such as freedom of movement, strength, and stamina, are lacking in some degree for those we employ.
Anyone who has broken their arm or leg knows how it changes your daily experience. Not having the full use of your extremities alters almost everything you do. You constantly have to make adjustments, and sometimes you have to rely on others for help.
It is the same for the men and women of the Meadows. Occasionally they need assistance with certain tasks, but despite a wide array of challenges, each person is able to do their job. The fact that modifications are sometimes required in their work environment does not diminish their achievements.
It is the way our employees choose to deal with their physical challenges that make the difference. They show up for work each day determined to be successful no matter obstacles they face. And although they might have to alter how they approach their work assignment, it does not frustrate them. Their sense of satisfaction is derived from completing their job. How it was accomplished is of no importance. All that matters is that they were able to finish what they started.
I have watched as our workers displayed tremendous creativity in how they dealt with a particular task. Often they do not need to ask for help because they cleverly find ways to perform their job assignments on their own. To them it is nothing extraordinary, it’s just what they need to do in order to achieve the desired outcome. Their physical challenge doesn’t register with them as an impediment. It is nothing more than something to work around.
Unfortunately, however, we often consider them to be broken or incomplete in some way. We view them as someone who is not perfect, someone who is less. We unfairly impose our bias and misconceptions on a person instead of accepting them for who they are.
It is astounding just how foolish we can be.
To discount someone whose body looks or moves differently than yours is the height of ignorance because neither of those circumstances plays any part in determining the worth of a person.
For our employees, having a physical challenge does not prevent them from enjoying their lives. They are actively involved in the community. They have many interests, and they pursue their hopes and dreams with passion.
These men and women set an example for all us to follow. They do not obsess over their challenges - so why should we?
Ultimately, we must understand that having an intellectual or physical challenge is not nearly as debilitating as being intolerant and judgmental.