Sunday, May 27, 2012

Living My Own Life: Adults with Disabilities

Through the years, families of people with disabilities have chosen to place them in institutions, nursing homes, and group homes.  This is an especially crucial decision for families when the parent or other family member dies or otherwise can no longer care for the family member with disabilities.  But these are not the only options available.  There is a growing movement paving the way for individuals with disabilities to live independently.

Skeptics may object and argue that it's impossible, but in Michael Loukinen's film Living My Own Life: Adults with Disabilities, we meet several adults who, in spite of their disabilities, have managed to live on their own.  The argument of the film is that "people with disabilities have the same vision of adult life as everyone else does--a chance to live as independently as possible in their own home, to control who comes in through the door, to work at a real job and to be surrounded by friends."

Each of the individuals profiled in the film have disabilities which at first glance appear to need constant assistance and supervision.  While each does have support from others, whether from parents or home health assistants who come to the home, each one makes decisions about his or her life on his or her own.

The mother of one man profiled in the film summed up her own acceptance of the goal of her son's independence: "The most I ever hoped for was him just to be able to get out of the house. . . . and here he is, he's surviving by himself."  She had to give up her overprotectiveness, but, like any parent, came to see that he could manage independent of her.

Several of the subjects of the film have jobs, not aimless tasks in a sheltered workshop, but in actual businesses among non-disabled people.  Dohn Hoyle, an advocate and friend of one of the men, points out that some would say "that some people don't have the capacity to work.  What we have to look at is what can people do, not what their limitations are, not what their disabilities are, but what can people do."

Can the individuals in this film and other people with disabilities live completely independently of anyone?  Likely not.  Like all of us, they depend on others for support and community.  Their support may be more deliberate and intensive, but the key is that they choose their community and their support.  They have achieved a high level of self-determination.

Hoyle concludes, "This is possible for everyone.  The level of disability, medical needs, they don't matter; what matters is early planning and giving them a chance. . . . Limitations mean far less than letting people . . . get their piece of the American dream. . . . That's all any of us can ask."

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