Theo Braddy examines myths, stereotypes and assumptions about people with disabilities.
There are many things a person with disabilities can't do because of their physical impairments. For example, I use a personal attendant to assist me in getting in and out of bed. Another term that is used for attendant is caregiver and for the purpose of this real life story I will use this term.
A Caregiver is very important to people with disabilities that need them. Often they become good friends as well. But it is not always advisable to mix the two. For the most part people with disabilities try to develop friendships outside of the caregiver/work relationship. Like most people we just want to develop friendships separated from the caregiver relationships. We want to just develop normal friendships that have nothing to do with caregiving. Which leads me to my story…
During the early part of my Christian walk, I was in a Men's Discipleship training course and as part of this training we were encouraged to fellowship with each other outside of our regular meetings. This was a very enjoyable period of my life. I began to move away from my comfort zone and explored developing friendships other than the friendships that came so easily with my typical caregivers.
In one particular situation I was invited out to a movie by one of my fellow students from the Men's Discipleship course. Both he and I were working professionals with similar educational backgrounds and he had a great sense of humor. I just knew we would become great friends. I was excited; you see, he didn't have a disability and, most importantly, he wasn't my caregiver!
The movie was great! I recall coming out of the movie and as we were laughing and discussing parts from the movie, my potential good friend ran into someone he knew. He introduced me and they quickly started a ‘let’s catch-up’ conversation. I quickly sensed that this conversation would last for awhile so I moved away to give them time to talk. We were in a mall so I started to window shop, moving away from them bit by bit. Well, about 5 minutes went by and I started back. I quickly noticed my friend moving frantically towards me pushing past people in the mall to get to me. When he finally got to me he immediately started to scold me, shouting ''Where did you go?” "I have been looking all over for you!” "Why would you do that?” "Why you just wander off like that?” I found myself explaining my actions to him like I wasn't a 38 year old adult but more so like I was a little child wandering off from a parent.
Long story short. This was the beginning of the ending of what I thought was the making of a great friendship. My potential friend never truly understood that I didn't need another caregiver relationship. I just needed a friend.
Myth #7: Non-disabled people are obligated to "take care of" people with disabilities.
Reality: People with disabilities are not always in need of assistance from those who do not have disabilities in everyday situations. Often persons with disabilities in everyday situations are fully capable individuals seeking to be treated like the adults that they are. If we should be in need of assistance, we are fully capable of asking.
In the case of my story, my potential friend didn't really view me as an equal. He bought into the myth that he needed to take care of me. He needed to protect me. What was I thinking, wandering off like that from my ‘caregiver’?