Saturday, March 5, 2016

Tip #7 Look beyond disabilities.

The Tip:
This is a tip that follows on from the one before. If you can genuinely see the internal strength in an older adult (and this is something that only you can know for sure in your heart), you will look beyond any and all disabilities that he or she may have, whether it is physical (such as arthritis or blindness), cognitive (such as problems remembering things, language barriers or dementia), or other mental health issues (such as anxiety, mood or psychotic disorders). There is no need to be scared if you have never interacted with someone with a disability before. Simply treat him or her like a fellow human being and find a creative way to work around the particular issue this person may have. The Best Day storytelling process challenges the older adult to think back about past life experiences, pick a specific story topic for each session, write down the story, and tell the story with a positive perspective even when it is about a negative experience – it is meant to be challenging but not intimidating. For someone with a disability, modify the process as needed. It's ok if he or she repeats the same experience and the facts don't add up – remember the tip about honoring the older adult's version of the truth rather than trying to go after absolute fact? It's ok if his or her hand can't physically write – just write the story down as he or she verbally tells it to you. And it's ok if he or she has trouble seeing the positive in anything especially the first few times you talk – eventually he or she will come around.

The Moment:
This intimate moment will always stand big and tall in Best Day's history. It's the moment 17-year-old Olivia emailed me her reflections on Joe's story. She named her story after Joe's: "Vision". Together, Olivia and Joe shared their stories to a public audience just a couple months later at a Best Day community event. That was over five years ago and people still email me telling me how inspired they were by our dynamic duo.

The Stories:
Joe Garrison

One afternoon I was getting on a bus, waiting for a seat when some well-meaning person offered to take me to a seat.  However, he sat me on someone’s lap.  I was embarrassed and the person I sat on was angry.  I in turn was angry at the person who supposedly was trying to help me.  I could smell alcohol on his breath.  He said to me, “What are you arguing with me about?  You can’t even see!”

Another incident was when someone asked me if I wished I could see.  The moral of the story is I don't have physical sight, but I believe I can see.  If I am in your presence or I experience being with you, then I see you.  If I understand what you are telling me, then I see.  To see means to understand.  Movies and television are just as enjoyable to me as they are to you.

Olivia S. Brown

I’m used to hearing stories about “a party last night”, the “latest school gossip”, or what’s “hot” and what’s “not”, but I rarely get to sit and hear stories as simple, but inspiring, as those shared with me during my recent visit to Philadelphia Senior Center.

One may get to hear stories similar to those I heard last week every now and then in a blog, article or documentary, but there was something special in hearing them first-hand—from people sitting right across from you set in a backdrop of so many unique personalities and characters.
I was most inspired by the stories told to me by the visually impaired in the room.  They appeared to look at things from ways no one else could see.  Although they were blind, I discovered that I was the one who couldn’t see after I was enlightened by their insight. 

Overall I left the meeting thinking I need more people like them in my life.