Friday, February 17, 2012

Walmart or Bust!

Loaded with the gear shift in “D”, Connie happily sat front row and center in the back of the Wendell Foster’s Campus (WFC) van as we headed to Walmart.  Prior to leaving, she vocalized her impatience with the delay of heading out for the day.  Once in the van, the expression on Connie’s face, forever etched in my memory, showed contentment, satisfaction, and pleasure.  She looked relaxed; anyone sensitive to one’s demeanor would have noticed the difference.

I’d seen the WFC van out and about in Owensboro since I’d moved back to town.   I noticed the white long van, and the people in wheelchairs in the back of it, and I wondered about their safety, “Don’t they seat belt those guys?”  Today, from my insider’s vantage point, I realized just how well our passengers are secured in the back of these vans.  Hooks on the wheels of the wheelchairs, ratchet straps and seat belts secured those gals and their chairs during this drive; oh, that in addition to the good ole wheelchair brakes!!

During the loading of the van, I met Roslyn and Ashley, the Direct Service Providers (DSPs) on duty for this trip.  Watching them do their “DSP thang” left me awe struck. They had the load-in procedure down to a science, and made it look easy.  Meanwhile, I’m standing there feeling inept, watching and thinking “Thank goodness I don’t have to do anything that mechanical in my position!”  I felt silly just standing there, but I didn’t know what else to do, and really, I didn’t need to do anything.  Roslyn and Ashley had it under control.
Supports Community Living (SCL) provides accessible housing to individuals who need a supported home environment.  SCL serves as an alternative to institutional care for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  DSPs, such as Roslyn and Ashley, provide support with a focus on promoting the independence of each individual, so residents like Connie, Greta, and Lisa enjoy opportunities to live everyday life like you and I do:  grocery shopping, social outings, and household management.  SCL involves those they support whenever possible, from a person-centered focus.  The DSP’s empower the SCL residents with choices, an opportunity to connect with and be active participants of our Owensboro community.  I admit I initially questioned to myself, “Why drag these guys out to Walmart?”  I realized that not doing so would be the equivalent of “hiding them away” from the rest of society.  Connie and Lisa have a right to be involved in the shopping of the food they eat; hell, they have a right to go to Walmart! 

What happened is I fell into the generational (old way of thinking) trap of “Why bother with them” and “Why trouble them.”  The “Why bother with them” attitude stems from a historical perspective of “out of sight, out of mind” is better.  Ever been confined to quarters because of being sick or a health issue?  Did you go stir crazy, so bad you wanted to just get out, have a change of scenery, to reconnect with the “outside world?"  So do Connie and Lisa!  Who wants to stay stuck in the house all the time?  The latter attitude of “Why trouble them” isn’t really about them, but about us, and our sense of inconvenience.  Why bother with going to the trouble it takes to get them ready for the day, pack their lunches, load them in and out of the van, maneuver them around a public place where people will stare and who don’t really want to see them anyway?  It’s a rationalization for “Why bother with them,” an excuse to not deal with them.  Each posed question really boils down to this one fact:  it’s all about us and what we feel and think upon seeing individuals with developmental disabilities, and our attitudes.  Most are not concerned or considering what Connie, Lisa and others’ right to be a functioning member of their community.
Yes, my outing with Connie and Lisa to Walmart would be an eye-opening experience.

In the Next Blog Entry:  Why Won't You Look at Me? - . . . . I realized not everyone is willing to include, connect with or acknowledge individuals like Connie and Lisa.”
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