I was raised by my mother for whom disappointments in life did not exist. My brother was born with Rubella Syndrome, blind, hearing impaired, cleft palate and severe developmental delay. After a …
I was raised by my mother for whom disappointments in life did not exist. My brother was born with Rubella Syndrome, blind, hearing impaired, cleft palate and severe developmental delay. After a brief hiatus to be grief stricken, (and a bona fide visit from “up above”,) she replaced any disappointment with love. Love him she did, and he was included in all aspects of daily life, including my life as a child, where I would happily pull him in a wagon to the playground and lovingly place him in a toddler swing. He was “normal” in my eyes, and so is anyone else with a disability that I have encountered in my life.
Like many siblings who have lived with a brother or sister with a disability, I have an innate acceptance for others with disabilities. My first job as a waitress at Newport Creamery, I paid extra attention to patrons with disabilities rather than shy away from them like some of the other servers. Anytime a customer had a difficult to understand speech impediment, I would be called over to serve them, which I did with patience. I would get his food order from him, (and not from their guardian or friend sitting with them,) even if it included pantomime or drawing on a napkin. I’d been known to cut up food for a patron unable to use a knife and fork, and my smile and eye contact never wavered even if the person had severe burns or facial disfigurement.
I went to college to get a masters in social work, counseling and rehabilitation and did my internship at Newport Mental Health Center, a residential psychiatric facility for acute mental health situations. Perhaps psychiatric illnesses are the most difficult for me to understand, and work was a constant challenge. It was with amazement that I watched individuals come in with schizophrenia, off the street, with dirty, ratted hair, urine-soaked pants, wild eyed and barefoot, talking about being chased by the devil, only to leave the facility clean and clear thinking after a week on medication. A lot of people are anti-medication and I respect their opinions, but there are times when medication can allow a person with a psychiatric illness to live a “normal” life. (Funny story…my brother had been hospitalized at the medical center during one of his severe depressions. He joyfully came up to me when I visited to tell me how happy he was. “Jesus” had visited with him and told him not to be sad. Come to find out, his roommate had schizophrenia and thought he was Jesus.)
Not only my professional work has been with individuals with disabilities, but my personal life includes five children with disabilities. When my oldest son was born legally blind, it wasn’t a big deal. In fact, when it was learned that he had the same type of hereditary blindness as my brother, (which we had thought was related to the Rubella Syndrome,) I rejoiced in the fact that he was ONLY blind instead of having all of the more difficult issues of his uncle. We then went on to adopt four children who were subsequently determined to have disabilities. Motherhood was spent going to IEPs, facilitating appropriate placements and services, and maximizing independence for all five of my children.
I have been blessed with an acceptance of individuals with disabilities which has, through osmosis, also affected my children. When my son, Francis, took the bus to Kennedy Plaza from Boston, he stopped to give money to a homeless person sorting through the garbage. My daughter, Marie, who is deaf, will often run up to carry bags for the elderly, always with a smile and a wave. My son, Steven, who knows sign language he learned to talk to his sister, never misses an opportunity to practice being friendly when he sees a person using ASL. Dinora has volunteered her time as a make-up artist to beautify teenagers with disabilities as they prepare for a dance, and Angel regularly volunteers his time to deliver food to individuals who are homebound.
It is easy for me to be accepting. It is much more of a challenge for people who have not had such positive experiences. This is therefore a challenge to everyone who may be shy or cautious around people with disabilities. Instead of looking away, smile. A smile in return can be heartwarming!
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