A friend of mine was once walking up to a light when he saw a car pull up to the corner and stop. When he looked into the window, there was no one inside. My friend was fairly certain that the auto industry had not yet released cars with an autopilot feature. So he got closer to investigate.
Just as my friend peered through the windshield, the driver – who’d been grabbing something off the floorboard – sat up. The driver was so startled at this face in his windshield that he let his foot off the brake and almost ran over my friend.
My friend has always laughed about that incident and wondered what it was the driver thought was happening. The driver probably never knew the full story, and his perception of the event might have been very different from the reality. It is an excellent lesson in “things are not always as they seem.”
I’ve found the same to be true with many people with developmental disabilities. Usually, the people I’ve known with a developmental or intellectual disability were very different from what they seemed. Unfortunately, like the driver in my friend’s story, a lot of people never get to know the reality of what the person with a disability really can do.
It is easy to make initial judgments of people and situations based upon our past experience. If we’ve been around people who were drunk or on drugs, we learn to know what that behavior looks like. We may not recognize that certain types of seizures may resemble intoxication in that they bring on confusion and an inability to respond to direction.
Because it is so easy to make incorrect judgments, sometimes it is important for us to slow down, gather more information and let go of our presumptions. We may presume that a person who has difficulty speaking also has difficulty understanding. We may presume that a person who uses a wheelchair cannot live independently. We may presume that a person with a cognitive impairment cannot be successful at a job. But these are all misconceptions.
Often we consider other people as members of groups, but when it comes down to it, we each want to be treated as an individual. As an individual, a person has individual talents, individual strengths and individual struggles. If we really want to know a person’s story, we have to get to know these.
The one thing that I’ve found all people with disabilities have in common is that they are so much more than their disability. When I let go of my presumptions and allow myself to see past the wheelchair, listen past the speech impairment – in fact, take the time to listen at all – I can learn the real story. And it is so much more interesting than what it seemed.
For more information about connecting with people with developmental disabilities, contact Community Connections at 259-2464 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tara Kiene is the director of case management with Community Connections Inc.