One of the challenges to friendships developing between people with and without disabilities is simply the discomfort—even fear—that people often have when faced with someone with whom they are unfamiliar. Appearances, behaviors, adaptive equipment, communication issues, etc. have all been identified as things that “get in the way” of relationships.
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Over the last 2 years, The Real Friends Project has provided dozens of trainings and presentations to over 2,000 individuals. The “Introduction to Friends” workshop includes a segment where participants brainstorm and explore various benefits that “friendships” bestow upon people with and without disabilities. Very quickly, people will list the obvious (but important) benefits of companionship, reduced isolation, increased opportunities for activities, sense of self-worth, etc. But it usually takes awhile—and often requires prompting from the facilitator—for participants to list “better health” as a proven and crucial benefit of friendship.
Churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and cathedrals are much more than just buildings. They symbolize the coming together of people who share many of the same values, beliefs and traditions. At their best, they evoke a deep sense of community amongst the congregants, a word whose Latin roots mean “to collect (into a flock)”, “united”. Too often, discovering and celebrating one’s faith is over-looked when supporting people with disabilities. The National Core Indicators Project reports that in 2011-2012, only 4 out of 10 people with disabilities went to religious or spiritual services in the previous month in Massachusetts. But more than twice as many (more than 8 of 10) US citizens describe themselves as affiliated with a religion according to a recent Pew Research report. Faith communities can provide their congregations with spiritual, emotional, and social supports. And the faith community can be very fertile ground for friendships between people with and without disabilities to flourish.
The transition from school age to the adult world is stressful for young adults with disabilities and their families. Luckily, more and more families are beginning their planning early and, if they are lucky, they are aided by committed and knowledgeable school personnel and representatives from organizations who are familiar with adult services. If they are REALLY lucky, they have a team who pays close attention to the vision the young person has for their future.