Disability 101: The Importance of Community
April 4, 2010
Is there a disability community?
Some people have told me they don’t think so. But oh, yes, there is. It’s fragmented, but it’s there.
No, there’s no disability community in which people who use wheelchairs, people who are blind, people who are deaf, and people who have traumatic brain injury, etc., etc., all join together for common goals.
The disability community is fragmented but people who have similar disabilities can be found gathering together at every opportunity. The Deaf community is it’s own culture, a culture rich in it’s own traditions and values.
I’m a member of the adaptive sports community, in which athletes with disabilities gather together to ski, bike, play basketball, etc., in our own unique ways. And everywhere there are support groups, where people with specific types of disabilities gather together to encourage each other, support each other and offer wisdom.
Adults with disabilities always find each other. We need each other, so we find each other.
When kids have disabilities, the focus is on inclusion, that they are given the opportunity to learn with their non-disabled peers. This is important because as adults we are always working and interacting with our non-disabled peers and we want the same opportunities they have. So inclusion is important, but can it be carried too far?
There is danger in isolating children with disabilities from their peers with similar disabilities. They need each other. Let me explain.
When a person with a disability, child or adult, is interacting with their non-disabled peers, it is always a performance. Their non-disabled peers are generally looking to see if the person with the disability can do “it.” Can she open the door by herself? Can he push his wheelchair up the hill? Can she pass that test? Can he manage his job adequately? Their non-disabled peers often assume the person with a disability will not be able to do many things, so they are frequently wondering, “Can he or she do it?”
Then the person with the disability is often in the position of having to prove they can do it, whatever it is. God forbid we stumble. God forbid we hesitate. If we hesitate they will think we can’t do it. This is a performance. We are being watched, so do it well and do it quickly. (And please don’t let me start spasming while I’m doing it!)
This can be exhausting.
So I am always eager to join my disability community, which is the adaptive sport community. Finally, a break from the performance. I don’t have to prove myself here. I can just be me because all my friends with disabilities already know I’m a capable, worthwhile, wonderful person, even if I stumble, hesitate or fall flat on my face.
My friends with disabilities similar to my own get it. They understand me and the world we all must deal with. Big sigh of relief. So I can go ahead and play wheelchair basketball and it doesn’t matter if I make the basket or not. And it doesn’t matter to my friends if I start spasming or not. Some of them are spasming as well. I’m home.
So when we raise children with disabilities, make sure there are plenty of opportunities for inclusion, because they need the same opportunities as every other kid. However, don’t forget to give our children with disabilities the chance to be around each other, because they will encourage each other and support each other. And only then will our children breathe freely.
Yes, there is a disability community. It’s alive and well and critically important.