Having lived overseas and traveled to many places, I have developed a strong intellectual curiosity. Moreover, I have gained an appreciation for individual cultures – the tremendous variety of people, everyone unique and everyone different. In this blog, I celebrate another difference: disabilities or, more accurately, “different abilities.”
When I was growing up, many people with disabilities were hidden from the community at large. With sadness, I think of my late Uncle Alfred, who had multiple severe physical and intellectual disabilities. When I was about nine, I visited him at an institution. Basically, these people were warehoused in a huge, dark building, straight out of the nightmares of Dickens. The main room had large windows along one wall, but the bars and grates let in very little light. The inmates either stared vacantly or rocked back and forth, occasionally screaming. My uncle, with his festering open sores, looked like some creature from an old black-and-white horror movie. The atmosphere was oppressive and downright intimidating. “Please don’t ever, ever take me there again,” I said.
My second experience, very much later, occurred at at a summer job at a corporate cafeteria. I was a college student back then. I was surprised to see two coworkers who looked very “different.” I was uncomfortable. One day, one of them was sharing the freight I was taking to the lower level. He was a tall, skinny man with Down syndrome. To my surprise then, he didn’t assault me. In fact, I quickly learned, Tom was a gentle soul. And he had a wonderful sense of humor. We became friends. People with cognitive disabilities (the “retarded”) were not those madmen I heard and read about. In fact, these people could (and should) be included in the community, even “way back” in 1979.
When I was 40, I decided to change careers, from a cushy office job to working with children as a teacher. Of course, by then, children with disabilities were in regular schools. While I was completing my graduate studies and serving as an assistant, I came to love these children who were “different,” enough to focus on special education and add another 30 credits.
However, after 10 years, I came to realize that teaching was not a good match. (I’ll just say it wasn’t the students!) My love for this special population was just as strong, so I took a job at Advancing Opportunities, an agency that serves people with all disabilities in my home state, New Jersey. Starting with part-time in-home respite, I gradually took on additional responsibilities, including writing for them. This blog started out as a way to communicate the activities and values of the agency. Recently, Advancing Opportunities added an informative blog on its own website, so this blog no longer serves them. I certainly recommend interested readers to learn more there and acknowledge their generosity in having allowed me to blog here. Of course, viewpoints expressed here are my own.
Celebrating Individual Abilities joins my original blog, Janusz Korczak: Pediatrician, Writer, Educator, Orphanage Director, and Children’s Advocate. They are both very much in the same spirit.