Not long ago, I asked a nonprofit group involved in assisting people with disabilities to consider helping out an elderly person with certain physical limitations. The group responded back, asking, “Does the person need food or clothing? Does the person need a ride to a doctor’s appointment? How about a ramp?”
After mulling over the rapid-fire responses, and later querying the affected elderly person, I realized her greatest need was attention. She needed a friend to help her combat loneliness. She felt isolated.
And her situation wasn’t unique. From what I have seen in my work as a licensed professional counselor and as a volunteer serving people with disabilities, loneliness usually is their greatest challenge.
Often, they either physically can’t leave their place of residence to visit people because of mobility issues, the places and people they want to visit aren’t accessible, or they have to depend upon someone else for transportation, which greatly limits their opportunities for human interaction. Add to that the difficulty many disability-affected people have in communicating with others in general, such as older men or women that have had a stroke, someone deaf or someone with Alzheimer’s disease, and it’s no wonder many disability-affected people feel so isolated. Their even asking for help can be problematic for them because most don’t want pity or want to bother others. Many feel they lack value.
Yet all human life has value. I look back now on my own family connections to disability and what those relatives taught. My paternal grandfather, while fighting major depression and then Alzheimer’s disease, first introduced me to politics. My paternal grandmother, while legally blind, nearly deaf, having osteoarthritis, and using a walker, taught the value of history and the wonder of story-telling. My maternal grandmother, while having lifelong and severe scoliosis, and using a cane, taught a life of faith well lived.
Even the person that may not seem to some to have worth frequently has the greatest. I can’t tell you how many parents of children with severe autism, for example, who have said they learned patience or love or humility from raising their child.
This holiday season, I challenge you to become more involved befriending people with disabilities. This can be a lonely time of year for many. I also challenge you to become a bit more selfish: go make some disability-affected friends and feast from their vast storehouse of knowledge.