In an era where people generally want to be more respectful and inclusive of different populations, it's sometimes hard to determine what the "right" thing to say is. To be quite honest, before I started working at The Arc Wayne, I struggled with deciding what I should and shouldn't say or ask to someone with a disability. I want to let all of you know the most important thing that I learned when talking with the individuals we support – they are just that: individuals. No two of them are the same, and they most definitely have their own personalities, interests, hobbies, and skills.
Just because someone has different abilities, their importance in society is not diminished. I've met some of the most hard-working, kind-hearted people down in our Key Industries Workshop, in our IRA's, and out in the community. They want the same basic things we all want: a decent home, friends, family, a marriage, a good job, and the ability to take fun vacations.
I'm hoping this advice regarding people-first language will be a launching pad for positive interactions between you and the individuals you interact with. If you take one thing away from this, let it be that someone's disability does not define who they are as a person and does not always prohibit him or her from accomplishing goals and reaching dreams.
So, what is people-first language? The Arc defines it this way: "People First Language puts the person before the disability, and describes what a person has, not who a person is. Using a diagnosis as a defining characteristic reflects prejudice, and also robs the person of the opportunity to define him/herself."
For example, if someone is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, it would inappropriate to label him or her as "autistic." It would be better to say, "He or She has Autism." This emphasizes the person rather than the disorder. It's something that is a part of the person, not the person as a whole.
Almost 1 in 5 Americans has a disability – making it the largest minority population. It is also one of the most diverse minority populations because it is made up people from all cultures, backgrounds, races, and ethnicities. Disabilities don't discriminate, and neither should we. Individuals with disabilities are friends, coworkers, moms, dads, neighbors, daughters, sons, teachers, students, brothers, and sisters. All it takes is a genuine smile and an understanding that a disability does not define someone.
At The Arc Wayne, we are dedicated to helping individuals with disabilities feel welcomed and included in our communities. Thank you for your help and support with this goal.
We are so excited at how much positive feedback the #SeeMe campaign has received over the last week. It's reassuring to know that we are nestled in such a supportive, inclusive community and that we are surrounded by people who want to make this a better place to live, work, and play for individuals with disabilities. We couldn't do what we do every day without our community's support. Thank you.
If you're wondering what the deal is with all of these #SeeMe posts, you're probably not alone. To explain properly, let me first explain the rebranding efforts that made a huge impact on the campaign.
As you probably know, Wayne ARC is now The Arc Wayne. This is an effort to join hundreds of state and local chapters across the United States who have branded with The Arc – the largest national community-based organization advocating for and supporting individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities and their families.
The Arc Wayne decided to align with The Arc to strengthen our voice as we continue to find alternative financial support and create innovative programs and services for the individuals The Arc supports.
That being said, we wanted to make sure we weren't just saying that, but actually showing it in our communities. This was the genesis of the #SeeMe campaign. We wanted people to see and accept individuals with disabilities in all areas of our villages, towns, and businesses. We wanted everyone to know how special we think each and every individual we serve is.
In addition to the social media posts, we have also partnered with local businesses across Wayne County to show our support. Check out our billboards on Rt. 104 in Williamson and Rt. 31 between Newark and Lyons for a photo of our beloved David thanks in part to Lamar Advertising. Love coffee? Visit Imprint Coffee Roasters, Firewall Coffee Hall, or Mi Cafe Con Leche Coffee Shop to find The Arc Wayne coffee sleeves. Need something stronger? Visit Parker's or Twisted Rail Brewing Company to find The Arc Wayne coasters under a drink. Have kids? Load up the car and visit Chill & Grill, Mr. Coolee's, or Orbaker's for orange and yellow sprinkles on an ice cream cone – even the big kids will enjoy this one.
Whether you know someone personally, or you've just seen a photo on Facebook, we can all show respect for individuals with disabilities. Please share your stories with us on social media or in the comments of this blog! We love to see how you're making a difference in your community. Thank you for following along with us and helping create a more inclusive environment for what we believe is an amazing population of people.
Click on the icons below to see more from the #SeeMe campaign.
Jessica Blondell, our Development Coordinator, writes all of our blog posts to keep everyone who supports The Arc Wayne up-to-date with what the agency is doing in the community. Enjoy!