The Perspective of My Friends
In case you missed it, World Down Syndrome Day was this past Saturday. Down syndrome is an experience that I live alongside almost every day. I work at InJOY Life Resources, a Life Coaching program for adults with developmental disabilities, so Downs is just another “day in the life” for all of us. I have learned a lot about the sort of life that is typically allowed for my friends and people like them, and many times it is unsettling. That’s why I can appreciate to an extent these types of special days that are set aside to raise awareness and also dispel the myths.
An excellent recently published article, “The Happiest People in the World”, points out that “people with Down syndrome report much greater happiness in their lives than any other demographic sample in any part of the world.” This is staggering to consider and to experience. I wholeheartedly agree with the article’s thesis and commend it to you.I often hear others tell me that they couldn’t do my job. Most of the time, I quickly correct them: “Yes, you could. You can treat humans like they are human.”
Still, I wanted to offer an additional perspective. I am certain that more of us could be passionately invested in fighting for the rights and livelihood of people with developmental disabilities.
Disability Rights Movement
What happens to happy and forgiving people in the world? Unfortunately, many people with Down syndrome are easily mistreated because they are not going to hold others accountable to suitable behavior nor are they typically given a platform to do so. My Director at InJOY Life always emphasizes the necessity of integrity in our work because many of our members will never complain about whether a Coach is doing a questionable job. So while it is important to celebrate the laudable character and nature of my friends, it easily leads me to think about how people have taken advantage of those qualities.
I have thought and conversed over a lot of civil rights subjects in past months. I have often wondered about the kinds of shifts that would need to happen to bring better systems and transform the society’s hearts towards this group of people. It is ordinary to think about a group one already identifies with. It is extraordinary to think and act on behalf of a group that feels foreign to you.
Systemic prejudice still runs rampant towards this population. People with developmental disabilities are seen as children to be pitied; as worthless and useless; as angelic and divine; as too difficult to love or too different to be treated human.
I myself was intimidated when I encountered this population a handful of times growing up. I had many prejudices as I began working at InJOY Life, and I am sure that I still hold more misunderstandings that need to be broken. I can very easily understand how effortless it is to be afraid of the unknown. That is part of the human way. So it takes a people of a different sort of citizenship on this earth to remind one another to reach out towards those who are different. The margins are where my friends are, and, to put it simply, I would like it if everyone chose to go there.
Yes, we need to celebrate the happiest people. They are heroes and overcomers. They are God’s agents and teach us something about him and his ways. But we also need to advocate and stand up for them. This is a hidden population. A majority of people have little to no idea about what life looks like for them. I don’t know it all, but I have caught glimpses and would like to see other people on board to wrap around them.
Some Questions to Live with
To stand up with people does not mean one needs to be a political activist. That role is helpful, but it is just one of hundreds. Let me give some examples.
Many people with a developmental disability would enjoy spending time with people who are not paid to be around them, just hanging out with friends. How could we extend our friendship?
Many such people would like to go to a church service on Sundays, but there is no one in their life to take them, and the church doesn’t go out of its way to organize rides. We could organize a carpool.
Every person has great challenges that can hurt others, including this population. It can be very difficult to love at times. Christians could seek ways to lean on Christ that show his powerful love manifested in their weakness.
Many people are shut-ins and can’t make it outside too often. Our communities could be more intentional about literally searching for these people and visiting them.
Many families feel estranged because the needs of their loved one are different from the “average family.” Those wanting to reach out could intertwine their families, and their kids could spend time together.
Many people are survivors. They have lived incredible lives of adversity. Those wanting to help could start by listening to their stories.
Many people can’t say anything. We could live out our peace in Christ by being secure enough to sit in silence and “just be” with them.
The lives of people with developmental disabilities speak sermons and image the great mysteries of life. How can we prepare ourselves to be taught discernment and wisdom in this way?
People with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities are just people. I often hear others tell me that they couldn’t do my job. Most of the time, I quickly correct them: “Yes, you could. You can treat humans like they are human.” We don’t do it perfectly, but we make sure to get involved.
Image via Stephanie Hall (used with permission).