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Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Focus on Our Commonalities, Not Our Differences

I think that one of the most important things that I've learned from working with people with an intellectual disability is that everything works better when I focus on the commonalities between us instead of the differences.

"Disability" doesn't mean "Different"


The importance of this became startlingly clear to me the first time I met a woman with an intellectual disability, through a volunteer program with an agency. We'd been introduced because the coordinator thought that we might have enough in common to be friends. But I was a teenager with almost no experience in the field, and she was very shy. As we sat in her apartment staring at each other, I couldn't think at all how this was going to work.

So I suggested that we go for a walk. We ended up at a coffee shop. When we both ordered Diet Coke to drink, we both smiled, and suddenly a friendship was born.

Over fifteen years later, we are still friends. We have spent holidays together, traveled together, and seen each other through health crises. She is like family to me. We have very different backgrounds, but it doesn't matter - the things that we have in common are the base for a friendship that has been very fulfilling for both of us. We both love music, theatre and dance. We both like to sing, and go out to eat, and travel to new places.

Grateful


It's really easy to focus on our differences, especially when one person has a disability that the other doesn't...but it can be so much more fulfilling to focus on the thing that we have in common. It's a really good lesson for interacting with anyone, really. My mom said to me once, "I'm so glad that you and Bonnie are friends - because it brought her into our lives too." It was one of the nicest thing my mom has ever said to me, and I'm so grateful for how welcome my family has made Bonnie feel in our home. I know that she appreciates it.

I'm really grateful that I had to the chance to work with people with a variety of disabilities before I acquired my own. I think that my experiences helped to come to terms with living in society as a person with disabilities a lot more quickly than I would have otherwise.

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