by Patrick Brown
from State of Formation
Each person was different and each brought with them their own challenges and gifts. Some of them had significant language challenges and behavior problems that were hard to navigate. Some were capable of a relatively normal life with a job, social life, and real community. The major aspect of the person center planning process is dreaming. This is what seemed to be the most difficult part of the institutional environment. As much as these people were cared for and even happy to some extent, they had very few dreams for themselves and the only people in their lives were paid to be there and so no one had aspirations for these people beyond the most basic care. My mom and I had to stretch ourselves to think of dreams for these people we didn’t even know. These individuals had been cut off from their families and natural relationships and put into a clinical environment that lacked the kind of creativity, which can only come from genuine relationships.
The experience has made me reflect on how important community is to human dignity and fulfillment. One of the most attractive aspects of organized religions is their capacity for community. When talking to these individuals about what they want out of life, participation is a faith community was a common desire. I’ve known many people with disabilities who have found strength and acceptance in their faith communities. My sister reads the bible more than anyone else I know. She always asks me about different characters and stories that shes been reading and I don’t always know the passages she is referring to. She is someone that takes her faith seriously and yet our home parish has no program to support her and so she attends a bible study at another church. Christian congregations generally don’t have a good grasp on how to incorporate people with disabilities. The bible study that my sister goes to is a special group, only for people with developmental delays and cognitive disabilities. There are a lot of programs out there with similar models. The problem is that they simply create a separate but equal kind of system where people with disabilities have to participate in a parallel congregation. I haven’t seen any programs that have really incorporated people with disabilities in to the main parish programming.