We’ve all heard the expression “It takes a village to raise a child.” Neighborhoods are our modern-day villages, and we all want them to be safe and comfortable. However, not all of our fellow villagers live with the same sense of ease and security as the rest of us. The disabled live among us. Sometimes they live so quietly that we can forget that they are there. But they are our neighbors too.
Disabilities come in many forms. Some people might be physically impaired to the extent that they have difficulty moving or performing physical tasks. Others might have a condition that affects their stamina. They may not seem physically impaired in an obvious way but they still have significant limitations in their activity level. The third type of disability is one of emotional or mental health. These are the people who are the least visible to us, and they may be one of the most ignored segments of the disabled population. But what is common to a person with any kind of disability is the desire to live as normal a life as possible, and good neighbors can help.
Mindfulness is the first suggestion for helping the disabled in your community. Mindfulness doesn’t involve any new behaviors, it just means that you consciously consider your disabled neighbors.
- Don’t park in handicapped spots.
- Don’t block entryways to apartment buildings or community areas. What might be easy to walk around could be impossible for a walker or a wheelchair!
- Don’t be impolite. Many of the disabled have difficulty sleeping or are overly sensitive to noise and activity. Try to curtail your activities to a reasonable extent.
- Don’t forget to consider limitations. Don’t put things – mail, flyers, notices, and the like – in places that cannot be seen, noticed, and/or reached by everyone.
- Don’t forget they’re there! Try to include them in personal and/or community activities.
The next suggestion is assistance. This doesn’t mean caretaking, it means making yourself available when possible.
- Make a practice of vigilance. If you notice something wrong or different, check it out right away. Don’t ignore the newspapers accumulating on your neighbor’s driveway or the lights that never get turned off.
- Make a call. Check in daily or weekly to keep in touch. Give them your name and number. If you are running errands call to ask if there’s anything they need.
- Make a suggestion. There are assistive devices to make life easier: reachers, telephones with large numbers or TTY capability (text for the deaf), bath benches and grab bars, emergency call buttons, etc. You can suggest these devices to your neighbor and perhaps assist in obtaining them. (See resources below).
- Make an effort. Find out if there is something that is difficult for them but easy for you: driving, shopping, dusting or vacuuming, laundry, picking up medications from the pharmacy, washing dishes, etc. It could be as big of a deal as picking up a family member from the airport or as small as watering a plant. If there is something that needs to be done on a regular basis, like a doctor’s appointment, perhaps you could set up a schedule with other neighbors. It is surprising how little time it might take you to do something that would mean so much to someone else.
- Make a friend! Try to not make every encounter with the person about their disability. Just like everyone else, the disabled would like to have meaningful relationships with the people around them. Remember, this person is a person and not a disability.
The third suggestions involves advocacy. If you would like to be more proactive in helping the disabled in your neighborhood, there are several sources of information. The internet is the easiest avenue to find resources that are close to home, and here are some good websites to get started:
- www.nih.gov – The website for The National Institute of Health. This is a great first stop for finding out more about various disabilities and the legal obligations of communities, states, and our nation to support the disabled. There is also a link here for MedLine, a resource for obtaining assistive devices for the disabled.
- www.ncsl.org – The website for the National Conference of State Legislatures, which is a bipartisan advocate for our states, territories, and commonwealths. This is a good place to become informed about local issues affecting the disabled.
- www.disabled-world.com – This is a resource for the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and Australia. It can provide a sense of community and a source of information for and about the disabled.
It takes a village to raise a child . . . and to be a good neighbor. Mindfulness, assistance, and advocacy – even small steps in the right direction can make a huge difference. We can make the world a better place, one neighbor at a time.
article by World Barrios Contributor: Cathy Cooper
drawing by Artist: Peipei