I walked in to the packaged steel building set in an industrial park with hardly a glance at the neighborhood. The buildings obviously constructed by the same manufacturer and placed with about as much thought towards esthetics as the inner workings of a combustion engine. Once inside although the walls and halls continue the haphazard planning and nearly non-existent architectural details, the hum of voices and emotion quickly hit your senses changing your perception that what happens inside this building isn’t the typical office environment. I have just arrived for my work day. As I pass through a large room a chorus of hello’s ring out and the genuineness of the message that they are happy to see me at times leaves a lump in my throat. I work with developmentally disabled adults, (although putting a label here irks me).
The stigma’s attached to our disabled population our as varied as those making them. The times have changed and political correctness has changed the labels but labels they are, not necessarily given with animosity or disdain but just as effective at creating barriers. My job has many responsibilities, but the primary one in my mind, is educating people in order to overcome the stigma’s and re-conceived labels that hinder the ability for the people I serve to have real jobs. By real jobs, I mean jobs that are not made up jobs as an act of charity, given with a condescending attitude that says sure we can help some mentally retarded person. Jobs that are valued , needed services or roles that the employer would typically need fulfilled.
This process of education is often times consuming, and relational based, ie developing a relationship over a period of time and then introducing how someone I have identified might fit in well with their particular operation. This relationship development is often critical in order to establish the right to speak into that business manager or owners field of expertise. Doing everything right is still no guarantee that the employer will hire someone because the stigma’s run deep, and often it is difficult to get someone to share what is holding them back from hiring someone for fear of being labeled as discriminatory or worse being subjected to legal pressures for said same reason.
The truth is whether someone is disabled from birth or some other traumatic event the person inside is desperate for relationship and shares dreams, desires, hopes and hurts just like someone without a limitation… I think if everyone understood this truth, the largest barrier would be forever removed.