Every now and then I am reminded, with a shock, that the world isn't what it used to be for many people with intellectual disabilities. Over the last few days I've been reading posts from or chatting with some people with disabilities that I met a long time ago. These are all people who I met at conferences or who had attended my trainings, or who had been introduced to me by their staff at some point or another.
We've connected now on Facebook and I follow their posts and, on occasion we catch up by messaging each other. This is such a normalized behaviour for me now that I don't think about it much. There's a lot of people who I interact with in this way. I don't automatically break these connections down into categories of people ... they are people I know.
But sometimes, when things happen fast, I do notice. I notice not the disability in particular but the life the person with the disability is living. I notice the engagement that people have in their world or with others in their community. I notice that they are caught up in life, in the best way possible. I think this is noticeable to me because I grew up in a world without disabled people in it. I began work in an institution because community services didn't exist or if they did they were in their infancy. No one could have imagined what was coming down the pike, no one knew that freedom was on its way.
I notice casual comments about going off to choir.
I notice pictures of quilts made that are on display in an exhibit.
I notice the announcement of being in a new relationship.
I notice countdowns to vacations to Spain.
I notice pictures, very funny pictures, from pub nights.
I notice pictures taken at family events.
As life is what life is, not all the posts are about things being done or people being met, there are also posts that speak of the human condition and of what it is to be living a real life, no longer under the forced protection of us, the others.
I notice painful breakups, love betrayed.
I notice jobs lost or jobs not got.
I notice loneliness.
I notice sad comments about being bullied.
I notice grief at family who aren't family.
I read through these, comment or like when necessary, chat when appropriate, but mostly I am bear witness to the fact that people with intellectual disabilities, who given freedom, live it. Freedom has it's joys and freedom has it painful moments, but freedom's opposite is captivity. And while captivity would have all the pain of freedom but none of it's joys.
There are people with disabilities who still live captive. Who still hear keys jingle in every pocket but their own. I am reminded, when I notice the lives lived by those with intellectual disabilities that I am connected with, that not everyone yet has the opportunity for freedom.
Our work isn't done.
Because there's someone, somewhere, captive who, given freedom would make a chocolate cake for the bake table at their community bazaar. Someone, somewhere in captivity isn't meeting a new boyfriend today at the chippy shop. Someone, somewhere, waits, to experience the highs and lows of freedom.
Our work isn't done.
The lives that people with intellectual disabilities claim, when free, shouldn't fill us with a kind of desultory sense of satisfaction and a sense that we're done now.