Friday, November 30, 2012

I AM NOT My Body

You and I look at other people every day and vice versa, and we size each other up based on what we see in that slice of time through our own perceptual filter, often clogged with our own stuff:  personal self-image, past experiences, and belief systems developed through social, cultural, religious, gender, and familial influences.  I have learned that anyone, me included, deciding on whom someone is, especially someone with a developmental disability based on the first impression, or deciding what he or she is capable of doing commits a grave mistake.  Did not American Idol’s Simon Cowell deciding upon seeing a frumpy Susan Boyle her audition was going to be a waste of time realize his mistake when she belted her song with a voice that came from out of nowhere?  How often we do this to others in our everyday lives?

Many look at the individuals we serve on Campus through our residential and outpatient therapy programs and only see their physical disabilities and what they “can’t” do; however, their bodies do not define who they are!  Each person has a unique story, experiences unlike anything you and I can even imagine.  They also have personal interests, desires, goals, dreams, just like you and me.  The only difference is we see these individuals’ “story” depicted more clearly  through the physiological appearance of their bodies, which tends to make the sub-story of who they really seemingly invisible.  Their physical appearances only tell part of a story:

·         A young man physically abused as a child.
·         A young man suffered a head injury from a skateboard accident.
·         A young man carried during pregnancy by a mother addicted to drugs.
·         A young boy deprived of oxygen for two minutes during an emergency premature birth.
·         A young woman violently shaken as an infant.
·         A young woman abandoned by her parents after learning she had cerebral palsy.
We all have a history that influences us in who and how we present ourselves to the world; but that history does not DEFINE who we are unless we let it.  We cannot possibly see or know the whole person in one quick glance or meeting.  The unique bodies, awkward muscular movements, slumped-over heads, and/or unintelligible verbal communication depicts only a part of the sum of an individual, just as a frumpy overweight and seemingly unkempt physical appearance only depicted a part of the sum of Susan Boyle.  Unfortunately, we as a society still tends to discount individuals with disabilities, dismissing them as inept and/or unable based on a brief encounter and a whole lot of assumption.

I recently spoke to an elderly neighbor who said when he learned I worked with WFC, “That’s a sad place; those are sad people.”  This outdated opinion could not be further from the truth! Denise and Zach actively volunteer within our community!  Gary, Lonnie and Brad work out in local gyms!  Bryant (pictured below) continues his education online, and another Gary keeps his eye on the riverfront work and socializes all over town!  Roger and Shelly advocate for street safety for those in wheelchairs with the city!
Our Campus individuals have more courage and determination to live life than I do some days.  We at Wendell Foster’s Campus work to ensure the empowerment of each individual with developmental disabilities who lives on and off Campus.   We take seriously our mission statement of empowering these individuals in realizing their dreams and their potential, and we reaffirmed our promise to continue ensuring those we serve do not simply “get by” in life but “thrive” by providing them the opportunity to enjoy a quality of life that reflects who they are beneath the physical disabilities.

Over the next several months, Unique Bodies~Determined Souls will share the stories of how Wendell Foster’s Campus is keeping our promises to the amazing individuals we serve.   WFC and its staff are challenging ourselves to broaden our perspective and deepen our understanding of each individual we serve by learning more about what is important to him or her. 
And, it is through this effort we are seeing our residents take ownership to becoming more independent, greater self-advocates, more active members within our community, and living even  more fulfilling lives!

In the Next Blog Entry:  Scrambled or Fried - "The person taking care of you wakes you up at the crack of chickens, hollering in a fake chipper voice, “Rise and shine!” Then you are pulled out of bed and plopped into a chair in front of a TV. . . . .   "

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