COVID-19 has caused a worldwide pandemic where the majority of humanity has been ordered by the government to stay home, keep their distance from others, and avoid gatherings of all sorts. What a pain! We miss loved ones, we miss the gym, we miss going out on Friday nights, we miss being with friends at the beach or a park or local restaurant. It is tough to be alone for so long! What if this was your social reality long before this pandemic began?
This is close to reality for my sister and many other people in a similar position. My younger sister is 22 years old and has Down Syndrome. Through my vocation, I also have the pleasure of working with many teens and young adults with disabilities. I have gotten to befriend dozens of people with varying intellectual disabilities and have been able to see, in part, into their world. While there are some incredible programs and people who come alongside folks with disabilities, it is still a lonely and callous world. School serves as one of the main sources of community for my friends, but once that ends at age 22, what opportunities remain? College? Not likely, though possible for some. A job? Extremely difficult to come across. A segregated program? Sure, but is that it? Is that enough?... The truth is that we all crave connection, a place where we belong, a place to know and be known by others.
In this time when luxuries of social interaction and connection have been stripped away from us, please consider some of my friends with disabilities who live in a “socially distanced” reality. How might your experience with social distancing be growing your understanding and empathy for others? It doesn’t take much to make a difference. We can start by asking ourselves these questions: How can I include people with disabilities in my workspace? How can I reach out to the one person I know that has a disability and begin a true friendship? Churches and faith communities… this is definitely to you as well. How can we, Church, begin to reach out to a community of people that have been pressed to the margins? We are only complete when we all are valued. It’s not just creating space, it is eagerly listening to the voices that desire to emerge out of their socially distanced reality.
To parents, friends, teachers, ministers, volunteers, social workers, business owners, other advocates, and those with disabilities that are paving a way and are pressing into society to foster belonging for all, thank you.