Having an opportunity to determine your life’s journey and to make your own decisions is something many people take for granted. However, for the people with disabilities and those who take care of them, having choice in many matters is a luxury. However, it should not be so. Every day we are faced with dilemmas, some life-changing while others are kind of day-to-day choices such as what color of shirt to wear or what to have for dinner. Feeling that you have the power to choose what you want with your life, whether short-term decisions or long-term, gives one confidence and control. Everyone deserves these kinds of opportunities and we at Beyond Services are happy to help people with disabilities and their loved ones have a choice in matters that affect their daily lives.
Disability and choice
If there were a hierarchy of which people need to have their own choices, the people living with disabilities and their families should be at the fore. The reason is simple; they understand their own needs and how best they want to go about those needs. An old saying states that “It is the wearer of the shoe who knows where it pinches”. This best explains disability and the importance of determination of their choices.
Disabilities are different in different individuals. For example, let us consider the Autism spectrum. This disorder covers a wide range of skills, symptoms and levels of disability. Therefore a bracket decision, say by the government or a school, cannot cover all. This is where customization comes in. We cannot expect people to make decisions – good decisions- if we don’t give them the tools to do so. Beyond Services recognizes and respects the need to have specific solutions for specific individuals. That is why customized services are offered, all tailored to each client.
Why choice matters
- Independence–there is a negative connotation that a show of independence by persons living with disability will lead to reduction of funding and other types of support. This is flawed thinking which needs to be given the contempt it deserves. On the contrary, independence for people with disability means having choice and control of their life and independence. As the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disability explains, independence encompasses (i) individual autonomy; (ii) the opportunity or the chance to be actively involved in decision making processes and (iii) the ability to access the physical, economic, social and cultural environment. To achieve this vision, people with disability must be assisted to achieve self-direction, self-reliance and to develop their own identity.
Since the goal is to have choices, and meaningful choices for that matter, the people with disability can have the same opportunities as their peers if they are supported to make decisions – meaningful decisions- about the management of their life.
However, care should be taken so that independence does not lead to loneliness. Humans are social beings and as such we are interdependent on each other, meaning people with disabilities should be taught to foster equal valued partnerships with others.
On promoting independence for people with disability, the Australia National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) put it correctly by saying “Optimal independence occurs when people are included in community, using paid support to complement informal support provided by family and friends. Optimal independence is about inclusion.”
- Identity development –Teenagers with disabilities, just like any other teenagers, need to develop identities to find and negotiate their own pathways as they approach adulthood. The ability to make choices and live with their consequences can never be overemphasized. Group and community programs offered by Beyond Services are meant to facilitate individual identity development as well as develop social relations. This could be within an age group or across the age spectrum.Having a voice within a group environment is an art that need to be cultivated. To be able to air your feeling with confidence, and also to respect other people’s feeling and to give them a chance to speak them out is key.
- Healthy families –For parents and siblings living with individuals with disability, extra effort is required. Be it in terms of time, money, care, support etc. This means they as the care givers also need support. The support here, need to be customized. For example, mom and dad need to have “alone” time to grow their bond. Date nights and going out with friends is important for the siblings. Therefore as we give attention to people with disability, let us not forget to give choices to their support systems.
- Social relations development– Friendships and engagement with peers are important for development of independence. One way to support independence is for parents and guardians to allow people with disability to have choice of friends. In essence, everyone deserves the chance to choose their own friends. This will make them take responsibility and have decision-making power. In addition, allow them to choose their hobbies and respect their likes. Involvement in community activities will further develop their social skills, and as a bonus interdependence.
- Quality life –Just like any other human being, people with disability have the determination to be successful in life. Of course measures of success are different for different cultures, but a quality life that encompasses autonomy, purpose, education and good relationships cut across the board. Having a choice in matters that affect you, are paramount in leading a quality life. Therefore, consider options for employment, learning and volunteering as this will give the individual with disability a sense of purpose, grow interpersonal skills and more so contribute to society. Healthy lifestyle and quality life go hand in hand. For many people with disabilities, it is common to lead inactive lifestyles. The consequence is obesity, heart diseases etc. Teach them to make choices that involve healthy living such as balanced diet and exercise.
In conclusion, choice matters for everyone. People with disability deserve opportunities to make their own choices. As brackets statements and activities cannot cater for their diverse needs, customization of services is important for a healthy, independent living.