Supporting People so the Community Welcomes and Respects Their Gifts

“…anything that is a gift is a gift for someone. Nothing is a gift plain and simple.”Richard Kraut, “What is Good and Why: The Ethics of Well-being

When I read this statement, it struck me that people with disabilities have so many gifts; however, if they are not able to share their gifts with the community – then they really are not gifts yet – just potential gifts. This thought made me feel sad because this means that some people with disabilities who are marginalized and segregated really may not even know what they can gift to their community. It made me think about how professionals, family members and friends thinking they are supporting a person with disabilities may be getting in the way of the person sharing their unique gifts.

People with disabilities may need various kinds of support in order to realize their gifts. They may need physical accommodations, coaching in social situations, prompting to remember something, etc. However, those of us who provide support need to strike the right balance between what is support – and what we might be doing to impede people’s abilities to share their gifts. For example, if we speak for someone, the world doesn’t get to hear the person’s voice expressing unique thoughts and ideas. I think of one art program where the person supporting was “doing for” the person working with clay rather than letting the person express her creativity. I needed to coach the support person to sit back and watch. What the woman created was a beautiful textured tile made with a pattern of her figure prints.

The Arcadia Institute Community Brokers spend a lot of time reflecting on how we are supporting the people we work with. We challenge ourselves to examine how people can express themselves in the community and how we can support them in each endeavor. We work to keep assumptions about a person’s disabilities and abilities in check. Rather we support by getting to know each person, coaching them through challenges and encouraging new experiences in the community.

As we do this work, we are helping people gift the community as artists, poets, cooks, organizers, teachers and the list goes on. When the community receives these gifts, it grows more welcoming and respectful of people with disabilities. Doors open more easily and gifts become reality for all of us “someones” in the community.