Today, Kevin, Bella and I were invited to speak to an Honors Level Disability Awareness class about the lessons we've learned by having a child (now children) with a disability.
The students came from all disciplines and it is a class with the main purpose of helping people work and live with people with disabilities. In this class, there are future school teachers, medical staff, economists, business people etc. I think it should be a REQUIRED course for all college graduates!
Today's topic was "Lessons Learned". We shared our family journey and how it impacted our decision to adopt Bella. We also shared insight and gave advice on how to best work with families who have a loved one with a disability.
One of the biggest areas for these students to work on is plain and simple -- the use of language-- "People First Language" that is! Both in the written and spoken word, the person should be put before the disabiltiy. i.e. a child with Down syndrome, a person with a mental illness, an employee with cerebral palsy, etc.
A disability does not define a person; it is just a part of who they are! We also shared about how using the "R" word (retard) makes us feel or any other word that can be construed as demeaning. I think the students were quite receptive to our suggestions to stop using the "R" word to refer to themselves or others doing something not up to par.
Also, I shared a story that was a turning point in my life after Grace was born. When Grace was about two months old, I was still quite sensitive to the fact that everyone was staring at my baby because she had Down syndrome. I felt that people would turn and stare at her while I had her out in her stroller.
Well, one day we were at the mall and Grandma went into a shop to get a coffee. While she went in, Grace and I waited just outside the entrance. While waiting, I noticed a girl walking towards us with black hair, black lipstick, black clothing, black fingernails, piercings...I am ashamed to admit that I was already "prejudging" her in my mind.
I watched as she glanced sideways at my baby as she walked by. Then, out of the corner of my eye I saw a movement, and lo and behold, the "Goth" girl came back to us, squatted down face-to-face before Grace, looked at her, and then looked up to mean while she was standing and said "She is just beautiful!" Wow, talk about God using an unlikely source to bring me to my knees.
There I was judging her by her looks, thinking the whole world was staring at my baby because of the way she looked! God used this young lady to stop me in my tracks and realize that the outside of a person is not what counts, it's what is on the inside. To this day, I really think the "Goth" girl was an angel in disguise!
We are so thankful we are able to share our journey with others. Perhaps one of those students will remember just one thing we said about working and living with people with disabilities. Because when it comes right down to it, "we are more alike than different."