On Disability and Connection

I’ve been pondering this topic for a while, as I seem to have unending challenges in maximizing or at least maintaining my links to others. At its root, connection is the basis of our humanity. We all want to belong to an organization, form solid romantic and/or friendship relationships, and ensure that our family bonds are strong.

I guess whether we like it or not, we tend often to be defined by what we do. What kind of job/occupation/career do we have?

I suppose not only persons with disabilities but many have a hard time associating with the individuals who might help them get to the place where they would like to be. However, I can say from my own experience and that of some of my friends that those of us with disabilities may grow up never really learning how to accentuate networks, and thus we find it harder to obtain meaningful employment, if any at all.

Fortunately, I think that modern technology is leveling that playing field for kids of this generation. I can’t imagine how different my trajectory would have been if I had Facebook, an iPhone and the like during my formative years.

What this tech is doing for career possibilities, I’m not sure it can do for interpersonal connections. In my experience, there is a bit of a rock-in-a-hard-place thing that happens, and particularly for individuals with clearly visible disabilities.

I have learned my way around almost my entire half-mile neighborhood area, from the leasing office on one end to the restaurant strip containing Dunkin Donuts, Noodles and Company, and other establishments called, I think Pavillion East. It’s a very pleasant spot, especially when the sun is shining and I can grab a coffee and a sandwich and take a seat on the patio.

Anyway, so I might be cruising along thinking to myself and mapping where I am and wish to be.

“Hi sir,” I hear someone say. “May I help you?”

Often, I say no as I don’t actually need assistance at that moment. “But hey, I would like to chat if you’re interested.”

My experience is that people rarely are interested, unless they feel they can fulfill that apparent need. Because of this, I have had relatively few friends without disabilities. More than that even, I’m finding that increasing independence can often lead to increases in isolation, as people have fewer obvious reasons to interact with me. It kind of makes me think of what others have said to me, that we are so often seen only as our disability, and not as a whole person potentially full of interesting traits and yes even character flaws.

I guess the people who are most likely to see us as whole are of course our families. Even as much as they do know though, I have found that many even in my own family are surprised by some of the crazy stuff I enjoy doing.

Actually, I feel fortunate to have the folks around that I do. One problem that is common among folks with disabilities, causing us to sometimes feel a strong urge to act recklessly just to establish our own identity, is that our well-meaning families can be a bit overprotective. I know some, for instance, who have been practically forced to live at home into their 30s, because their parents feared imminent harm if they were unable to track their every move. This sort of thing makes me sad, and I guess I’m just hoping that things continue to improve for all of us as time marches on.

So those are some of my thoughts regarding how persons with disability connect and fit in among society. I suppose things aren’t actually as tough as they could be and have been in the past. I will continue to do my part in helping us all to make gains and understand each other just that little bit more.

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