Thursday, October 7, 2010


Several years ago I attended an autism conference at which one of the featured speakers was a family of two teens on the autism spectrum. When the father’s turn came to speak he said, “Don’t try to fix them, they aren’t broken. Instead, as a parent or a professional, your job is to remove the obstacles that are keeping them from reaching their fullest potential, and then get out of their way and watch ‘em fly.”
As a person with multiple disabilities who later became a parent of two on the autism spectrum, I followed that advice long before I heard it. I understood how limiting this attitude of wanting to fix us can be, because I had endured it myself from family and professionals.
Those of us with disabilities aren’t broken, and we don’t need to be fixed. We want to be accepted for who we are, and allowed to reach our fullest potential. Sometimes we are able to use creativity, resourcefulness and intelligence to remove any obstacles in our paths. Other times we need help to remove the obstacles that stand in our way.
When we ask for accommodations we aren’t asking for special treatment. We are asking for help in removing obstacles that we can’t remove on our own. I am 4’11. If I had no physical disabilities at all, I would still need a ladder to reach office supplies on a high shelf. Would anyone think I was asking for special privileges if I expected my employer to pay for that ladder and keep it on hand in case I needed it to perform my job?
If I ask for an amplifier on my phone or a chair that my back can handle sitting in, I am simply asking for a “ladder” that will let me do my job. The ADA understands that some accommodations are unreasonable, and makes allowances for this. Reasonable accommodations, on the other hand, are tools that allow us to remove any obstacles that may keep us from functioning independently, working and thriving in the community.
At times I need the help of a professional to get the services I need. I don’t ask the professional to manage me or fix me. Instead, I seek help in removing the obstacles that stand in my way. I want to know who to contact, how to fill out paperwork and other advice needed. I welcome a reality check, but I need to take the information given me and make my own decisions.
It is human nature to help and protect those we care about. We just need to remember that our disabled family, clients or patients aren’t broken and don’t need to be fixed. They need to be seen as the individuals they are, and sometimes they need help removing the obstacles that keep them from flying.

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