I just got off the phone with a mother whose daughter, Sarah, has been living with a roommate in their own apartment. The parent was marveling at all that her daughter had learned in the last two years. Two years ago, her daughter was living at home with her parents, even though she was 30 years old. Her mother still cooked for her, did her laundry and made sure her room was straight. She had little to do socially and tagged along with her mother on a lot of her errands.
This does not sound like the story of a typical 30 year old. But Sarah is a person with disabilities. And the story of her living at home with her parents and not having much to do is, unfortunately, very common. Most people with disabilities in this country live at home, dependent on their parents, because they are unable to find the support to move out on their own. This dependence on the parents is difficult for aging parents and inhibits the usual growth that everyone experiences when they move out on their own.
Two things have helped Sarah ’s journey to living her own life. First, she is in the process of getting competitive employment. Sarah began to learn employable skills by training in a program preparing and serving lunch at a local Jewish day school. As her skills and confidence grew, she began to feel able to look for a paying job. She has prepared a resume and is in the process of looking for a job at a local community center. Having competitive employment is important for two purposes: 1) she is able to have something productive to fill her days; and 2) it will help her to support herself financially. Our community should look for opportunities to hire people with disabilities because they are diligent and enthusiastic employees who appreciate being able to contribute.
Also, people in the community have reached out to Sarah and her roommate to include them at various activities. For instance, a local woman has them over for Shabbat dinner and to visit her synagogue. People that she has met at her internship have invited her to bridal showers outside of the internship. This kind of inclusion enhances the other social opportunities that make people with disabilities feel happy and engaged.
People with disabilities have a lot to contribute to our communities. With the right supports, they are able to lead the full lives that we have all come to expect for ourselves.
Stacy Jarett Levitan is Executive Director of JCHAI – Judith Creed Homes for Adult Independence — an agency selected for the Slingshot Guide Supplement on Disabilities and Inclusion. JCHAI is in the Philadelphia area, providing supports to enable adults and young adults with intellectual disabilities and autism to live integrated in the community. She can be reached at email@example.com or 610-667-7875.