By Jennifer Sladen, Program Manager, National Initiatives
In the hope that fostering friendships between people with different backgrounds, countries, and cultures would lead to peace by inspiring communities to connect with and better understand each other, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed July 30th International Day of Friendship. On this sixth International Day of Friendship, let’s take a moment to reflect on how we can support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) to be a part of this drive to make connections and create friendships.
A few years ago, I attended a conference for direct support professionals. Al Condeluci, the CEO of Community Living and Support Services (CLASS) in Pennsylvania and a partner in the Interdependence Network, addressed the room, asking a simple question – “Who is the best friend of the person with I/DD you serve?”
The room was silent. Not because no one knew the answer, but because no one wanted to say the answer.
Dr. Condeluci pressed the group, “Who is their best friend?”
A voice near him spoke quietly, “Me.” Around the room, professionals started nodding their heads in agreement.
Silently, Dr. Condeluci walked back to the center of the room. After a pause, he said, “Being friends with the people we serve is great, but we are not always going to be there. Success is not going to an amusement park and hanging out with people with I/DD but hanging out a seat or two behind the person with I/DD and their friend on the roller coaster.”
All around the room, lightbulbs went off in people’s heads. Hands raised, asking for help and advice on how to make this happen for the people they serve.
Dr. Condeluci’s answer was not complex:
- Give people the opportunity to form friendships with new people of all abilities, not just the professionals they interact with.
- Encourage the people you serve to engage actively in the world and with the people around them.
- Educate people who are uncomfortable around or ignorant about people with disabilities to encourage them to make these friendships.
Thanks to shows like A&E’s reality show, “Born This Way”, as well as the increasing number of characters with disabilities in movies and TV shows, the dialogue around our country about how people with I/DD make friends, date, and live independently is growing. But, all of us can do more to make sure that people with I/DD in our lives have opportunities to connect with people of all abilities.
People with I/DD, here are a few ideas on connecting socially:
- Pursue activities and opportunities based on your own interests. After you have decided what you would enjoy, think about what support you will need to participate and who you would like to provide that support. If it turns out that there aren’t other people with I/DD who participate, go ahead. You can be a trailblazer!
- Seek out friendships with whomever you want to be friends with.
- Be yourself and open to new activities and new friendships.
- If you have trouble making new friends or if you have disagreements with friends, talk to the people you trust about how to address these issues.
- Advocate to include other people with I/DD in events and activities you attend.
Families and Professionals, you can:
- Encourage people you know to include people with I/DD in events and activities and promote understanding by talking about the value that the people with I/DD bring to your life.
- Make space and time for people with I/DD to make friends, pursue activities, and participate in the community.
- Encourage new experiences, especially if the person is scared or unsure.
We encourage you to explore The Arc’s Center for Future Planning for ideas about how to build relationships and pursue new experiences. And, if you are a fan of “Born This Way”, register today to attend The Arc’s 2016 National Convention and International Forum to meet the cast!