Supporting people with intellectual disability: What’s your role?
Be a “roadblock remover” – Refuse to look at the label before the person. See people as the people they are, not for the disabilities they have. For example, don’t think of or describe someone as a “behavior problem” or “wheelchair bound.”
Be creative, provide thoughtful support, and make the effort to figure out the best way to help people achieve their outcomes. If someone tells you (by words or behavior) that he/she wants to do something, focus your energy on how the person can achieve his or her desired outcome. A person with an intellectual or developmental disability may need supports to find an alternative way to achieve an outcome that might not be needed by someone without a disability.
Take each person’s interests and goals seriously. Remember that it is never helpful to focus on perceived impossibilities, based on an person’s disability or for any reason. We shouldn’t say things like, “Latasha says she wants to drive a car, but she could never do that.” Instead, discuss ways Latasha might be able to come as close as possible to her desired outcome of driving a car. For example, if Latasha has never had the chance to see what driving might feel like, consider offering the use of a video game system with driving simulators options.
Try to figure out what an individual really wants when he or she tells you about an outcome. If Latasha is saying she wants to drive a car, explore what the idea of driving may means to her (freedom, independence, being on one’s own, being an adult). Maybe you can think of other things she can do that would also make her feel that way, such as having a set of keys to her house, taking a walk in her neighborhood by herself or going to a movie with a trusted friend but no staff.
Be positive. Focus your energies on thinking and acting on, “people with disabilities can . . .” thoughts; not on “can’t” thoughts.
Do not base your interactions or your attitude about a person on his/her history. It’s true that a person’s history may often provide valuable information, but it should not be used to limit opportunities. The field of intellectual or developmental disability services is full of success stories where those with “bad histories” have become successful because the people supporting them were able to see who they could be, rather than judging them based upon past “bad behaviors.”
Model for others. Treat those you support as equals. In doing so, people in the community will be more likely to treat people with intellectual or developmental disabilities as capable, productive citizens. For example, when you are in a store with someone, make your support as invisible as possible. Talk to and treat the person as you would a friend. Encourage them to be independent. The tone you set will teach others in the community that people with disabilities are capable and interested in having full, well-rounded lives, just like everyone else.