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.

6 Responses to On Disability and Connection

  1. I seem to be having some success by asking people about Facebook accounts and adding them, if they have one, as soon I get to know them IRL. That way we have a connection in a place where the disability doesn’t matter as much and they can get to know me better without having to worry so much about it.

    As far as your encounters on the streets go, it occurs to me that the approach you outlined above may come across as needy, and in this fast-paced world I think that often makes people want to get away. It may work better if you approached it a bit differently, instead of saying you’d like to chat if they have time just give them an opener for chatting… something like “Thank you for offering, but I actually live in this neighborhood so I know this area well. Do you live nearby?” That gives them an opener to just start talking, they may stick around and chat a while or if they don’t have time they can dismiss themselves to get on with their day.

    • Ok, well said. Sometimes, I more or less do that. As I said though, I am willing to admit that I don’t always have the best approach. I fervently wish I were better at navigating the social landscape.

  2. Hi, I stumbled upon your blog from NDA, and wanted to say how much I appreciated reading this post. Thanks for your time and thoughtfulness in composing it.

    • Hi. I thank you for taking the time to read. Hope you enjoyed. I write in order to think, and perhaps to get others to think as well. Always feel free to chime in.

  3. Great post John! As a person with a hidden disability that sometimes rears it’s ugly head in social settings I completely understand how hard it is to navigate in a social setting. As society see, work with and mingle with people with disabilities they will become more comfortable with interacting and hanging out with us. For me social media has inly hampered that because we talk through computers and phones but not face to face as much as we used to. I totally dislike phones and don’t have a facebook account. I do however have a LinkedIn account which I absolutely love. Talk soon and this is a great blog!

    Iden

    • Hi, I apologize for just seeing this comment. I do agree that social media can create its own isolation, but I have also found community and support there unlike anything I’ve ever known. I guess it’s like all other life aspects: you have to learn to use it in moderation. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your continued input.

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