March is Intellectual and Developmental Disability awareness month and I had the good fortune to go to a film festival graciously hosted by Stargazers Theater, to watch some short clips made by, and starring I/DD people.
What struck me the most, was that all the short clips focused on one or several things that made each I/DD person just like us. In fact, halfway through, I was not seeing the disabilities, but all the similarities that we face as a people. Things, hopes and dreams that we could all relate to. None of us like being labeled and put into a box; whether we are being labeled as conservative, liberal, black, white, etc. Yet the disabled are labeled constantly, even if it is an unconscious labeling. Because of their limitations in areas that others perceive to be normal function, they are often overlooked for the brilliance and talent that they have within them in other areas that we may not be so familiar with.
I think about all the people that I know, and I would say that we all have some dysfunction on one level or another. I know many dyslexic people that may not be great at reading or spelling but have great careers in honoring their own strengths. I can be a bit OCD doing daily tasks, which can drive me and perhaps others, crazy. We are not all good at the same things and I think that there is a reason for that. We can learn from one another, and teach one another. When we learn from someone that we cannot understand in the more typical way, such as many I/DD persons; we are moved to open our heart space, as that space is the easiest area to access a new learning, and also the space in which the I/DD person lives from. We can teach each other tolerance of our own inadequacies.
My two sons had IEPs in school, which meant that they had an Individualized Education Program, IEP’s go hand in hand with being I/DD. Both had a form of ADHD. My oldest son struggled the most, and even with the IEP, he struggled with grades and found it too overwhelming to finish high school. They had him on meds to help, but the meds caused another stress factor for him. It was not easy getting to the nurses office to get the meds and make it to his class on time. He was ridiculed and made to feel less than; it was too much for him to stay in the school system and he quit in his mid-junior year. He had always been a great artist, and writer, although he could not spell and do grammar, his content always amazed anyone that took the time to hear him. Another talent is that he can remember every movie that he has ever watched; knows all the actors and how they play their roles. I cannot remember a movie well unless I have seen it several times and it is one of my favorites. Now in his thirties, he still struggles to fit in society, with societies’ views on what success is, but he is still brilliant at those artistic things. He has recently joined a local theater group and has hopes to write a screenplay. This has been a great move for him, as he is seen as the artist that he is, but he still has to unravel what society has categorized him in his own head. You start believing the talk. It takes some courage and effort to walk the walk through the old talk and feelings of being less than. There are many others with this struggle, and worse.
March is awareness month, but I wonder what the awareness really is. Is it the awareness that many people in our society have disabilities? Is it the awareness that they are also capable of doing many great things within society? Or is it more for us, normal folk; awareness of how we think about people with disabilities, or awareness of how we act around people with disabilities. Do we see them for the people that they are? In looking at these questions, I have to admit that I have felt a level of discomfort around some people with disabilities. I have to wonder why. Guilt feels like a likely answer; guilt that I do not share their struggle, even though I have struggles of my own. Fear also shows up; fear of what? Fear of the unknown? Lack of understanding them on my part, and fearing that I am not as authentic as they are? Interestingly, I have not really seen these people and have turned a blind eye to them due to my own insecurities, not for any lack in what they have to offer.
Part of the film festivals agenda was to also rid the world of labeling people with the R word. When I was in grade school, the kids would poke fun and call one another retarded if they did not know the answer to the teachers question. It amazes me that in this day and age, we have not grown beyond our actions of childhood. Calling someone retarded is hurtful and ignorant and it still has to be addressed to our society. Well, I have another R word for you. Restricted. Labeling people comes from a restricted way of thinking. Restricting your thinking is the same as shutting your heart as if your arteries had closed down; no opening or nourishment to allow an active life force to continue spreading. Restrictive thinking does not allow any room for the heart felt experiences or healing. I hope and wish that both R words could be eliminated and that we could all find the comfort and support in one another, as it was meant to be.
Do you see us? All of us, seeing each other perfectly in our imperfections. Seeing inside our own selves to see what needs to be adjusted. Opening the blinds in our hearts and letting empathy, charity and understanding sink in. My strength can support your weakness and my weakness can be supported by your strength. Do you see us as a whole society or are we doomed by a world of yet another separation?