Monday, January 30, 2012

"I Can Do It."

Owensboro has been nationally known to have more restaurants per capita than most towns in the country.  Our town likes to eat!  So when a new restaurant comes to town, Owensboro is abuzz with excitement and so are the individuals who live and work at Wendell Foster’s Campus (WFC).

Becky and Steve are two individuals with developmental disabilities living on our Campus who wanted to try the new Logan’s Roadhouse restaurant.  On the second day of its debut, two WFC staffers took them to lunch, an experience that far exceeded their expectations. Upon pulling up to the front door to unload the WFC van, Logan’s Roadhouse staff came outside to greet them and inquire about their accommodation needs for dining.  After a minute or so in what was a packed restaurant, the hostess escorted the foursome to their table.  Ian, their waiter, immediately introduced himself, asking each person his and her name as he took drink orders.   When taking orders, Ian directly looked at and asked Becky and Steve what they wanted for lunch, often a rare practice.  Most people talk over an individual with a developmental disability to ask staff or family members what he or she wants or needs.  Throughout their meal, waiters and the manager stopped by their table to visit, offer refills and ask if their meals were enjoyable.  Some developmental issues make swallowing food a life-threatening challenge, thus, meals must be processed in a mini-grinder.  Logan’s staff went out of their way to rearrange a few things so WFC staff had easy access to an electrical outlet to grind Becky and Steve’s food.

Word spread among the residential facility about the incredible service, accommodation, and inclusiveness that Logan’s Roadhouse and its staff offered them.  Two others from WFC, Bryant and Corey, went to lunch at Logan’s and received the same impeccable consideration and efforts to ensure their dining experience was enjoyable and accommodated to their unique needs.  Their waiter, Ryan, even shot the bull with Bryant about MTV and other topics young adults discuss.

Individuals with developmental disabilities don’t expect royal treatment, simply equal treatment and access to the same services everyone enjoys.  Logan’s Roadhouse staff went above and beyond to create a warm and welcoming dining experience for Becky and Steve and their friends.  And you can be sure they won some lifelong patrons as a result.

Interestingly, we must also be careful not to overcompensate in our efforts in being helpful to individuals with disabilities; doing so can become in and of itself discriminatory.  In my first week, I simultaneously approached a set of double doors just as Shelly did.  As she approached them in her electric wheelchair, I stopped after I went through them and held open the door so she could come through, without asking first if she needed my help.  Shelly quickly but sweetly chided, “I can do it.”

Her message was loud and clear – she had the ability, and wanted to do this herself.  I smiled, and said, “Of course you can,” and went on my merry way.   Shelly proceeded to maneuver herself to the automatic door opener button on the wall to push it and power through in her wheelchair.

Helpful by nature, I quickly learned the individuals we serve have different abilities to do for themselves.  Some need more assistance than others, but I learned not to assume anyone needs or wants my help.  Wendell Foster’s Campus serves to empower, an opportunity those we serve zealously embrace.  I realized in my effort to be helpful, I inadvertently disabled Shelly because I saw what I thought she couldn’t do.  She and others like her have special needs that require some accommodation, but they deserve no less respect, courteousness, quality of service, or equality than you or me.  Asking someone with a disability (anyone really!) what they need empowers the individual with choice, and the right of refusal.  Individuals with any kind of disability also have the right to receive any service provided within our community, and to be accommodated in such a fashion that allows them to reasonably participate in those services.

Owensboro is blessed to have many businesses within our community that get it and proactively support those we serve when they visit.  Unfortunately, there are still many businesses, and individuals within our community that live in ignorance, and reflect it through their choices and behavior upon being in the company of an individual with a developmental disability.

In the Next Blog Entry:  A Snakepit for Children - “. . . . patients were used as medical scientific projects by being infected with live hepatitis in order to develop a vaccine.”

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