Monday, February 20, 2012

Why Won’t You Look at Me?

A trip to Walmart with Connie and Lisa would be an eye-opening experience as I realized not everyone is willing to include, connect with or acknowledge individuals like Connie and Lisa.

If you are unfamiliar with individuals who have developmental disabilities, the sight of their physical abnormalities can be startling.  Cerebral palsy (CP) affects a person’s ability to move and maintain balance and posture; it makes it difficult to hold one’s head up and many will slouch or slump in their wheelchair.  Cerebral means having to do with the brain; palsy means weakness or problems with using the muscles.  CP is caused by abnormal brain development (during pregnancy) or damage to the developing brain affecting a person’s ability to control his or her muscles, even weakening them.  CP also results from oxygen deprivation during birth, or brain injuries from Shaken Baby Syndrome or a head injury resulting from a car accident or a skateboarding fall.  The damaging results vary from person to person, and may or may not affect one’s intellectual, physical or emotional capacity.
Upon first seeing and meeting the men, women and children we serve at Wendell Foster’s Campus (WFC), in what someone called “broken bodies”, I decided to stop bitching about my lower back and neck issues and crackling knees.  Some individuals with CP are non-verbal, and completely dependent on another for basic care, such as toileting, feeding, and other personal hygiene needs.  Others, though physically challenged, are intellectually smart, engage easily in conversation and independently mobile in their electric wheelchairs. Still, others communicate with communication devices, gesturing, or signing.  Some are verbal with the mental capacity of a child, and mobile on their feet, but fall-risks thanks to balance challenges.  We cannot lump all individuals with development disabilities into one category.  Each one is unique in his or her personality, intellectual capacity, physical ability, or communication capability, just as you and I are unique in our personalities, body and physical ability, emotional maturity, and intellectual capacity.

Now, imagine yourself in Lisa and Connie’s wheelchairs.  You can’t hold your 8-12 pound head up, so it drops and tilts to the right.  Your lower jaw hangs open because CP causes dysphagia leaving your jaw, throat and neck muscles weakened; but your saliva glands work well, and saliva pools in your mouth.  You can’t swallow, thanks again to dysphagia, so it spills over your bottom lip, leaving you drooling.  Your arms are constricted inward towards your body, at the elbows which are bent but stiff.  Your hands are stiff, even curled into fists so tightly that extending your fingers is not an option.  Your arms look as if they are in a permanent state of a charley horse. You are confined to a wheelchair, and sit in the same position for hours, unable to shift or move until someone does so for you.  Got the picture?
Now, imagine yourself in this unique physically contorted body moving in your wheelchair down Aisle 9 of Walmart. You are pushed by someone who supports you with all that you can’t do for yourself.  Another Walmart shopper approaches as you come down the aisle.  She sees you.  You see her see you.  Then you see her quickly look away, pretending to search for something on a shelf or look for something in her purse.  She says nothing in response to your effort to vocalize a “hello” or “hey” (which many use to say hello), once again pretending she doesn’t hear you despite your loud effort to greet her as she passes you by.

Feeling ignored?  Overlooked and dismissed?
I have a simple request of you:   I invite you to render a simple gesture of kindness to the next individual with any kind of disability you encounter.  Directly look him or her in the face, in the eyes, simply smile and say “hi.”  You may feel awkward, and it may even be hard to do, but I know you can do it if you are willing to do so.  I also assure you, even promise you this:  Your simple gesture of kindness will make that person’s day.  I’m pretty sure you’ll feel pretty good about it too.

In the Next Blog Entry:  Danger Will Robinson - One well-put-together woman saw us coming down her aisle, and immediately looked away as if searching for something . . . “
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1 comment:

  1. wish every person on earth was made to read this blog,just like passing a drivers test to drive,but only read this blog,to understand life.I have been in the walmart situation many times before.Not on the end of the public but onthe other end. My sister has severe CP, She had always lived at home with my mother to tend to her every mother physically could not lift her anymore,sosshe now lives at WFC. She can not talk or walk.she looks up for "Yes and down for "No. she is fully aware of what goes on around her.when someone cries,she cries,because she feels compation for others.When someone laughs,so does she.Everyday of her life she has spent smiling,even despite her everyday physical pain.I cant imagine sitting in a wheelchair most of the day...and to have a itch you cant scratch,or a cramp in her body that needs to be attended to,but cant talk to ask for help!She has never been able to tell me her fav color,or song,or even what her fav food is. but,back to the walmart amazes me how all these yrs have gone by and people still stop to stare,or dont make eye contact,or even when thier children ask"MOMMY,what is wrong with that person?",the mommy says..shush.dont stare.instead of,thats the way god made them...special and unique.