March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. While it’s something we think about all year long, this is a time for all of us to become more aware of the people in our lives and communities who have been diagnosed with developmental disabilities.

These are the folks we serve here at the Occupational Development Center. These are the people who come here every day in order to learn new skills and hone their existing skills, and to earn a paycheck while seeking to find a job.

Capability > Disability

We use a lot of terms to describe people. As a society, we like to label people and things. But every term that is used to describe the participants here at the ODC falls incredibly short.

Disability.

It’s a word that implies that there is something wrong with a person; that they are somehow “less” than the rest of us and are not capable of doing things.

But nothing could be further from the truth. This is why we prefer to focus on their capabilities.

Can > Can’t

When faced with a specific work related task or life skill, it’s often easy for many of us to look at someone with a developmental disability and say, “Oh, they CAN’T do that!”

But is that the truth?

Is it that they can’t do something, or that they haven’t yet been taught to do it? Or, that they just can’t do the task in the way that we think they should do it?

Part of what we do here is not only train individuals how to do a task, but also find ways to help them do it if it is difficult for them. This is why the Americans with Disabilities Act talks about the fact that employers may need to make reasonable accommodations to help those with disabilities flourish in the workforce.

For us, this might mean creating some sort of “jig” that helps our individuals do a task properly.

And, just like any task we learn, there is a learning curve. We might start out slowly, but as we do a task more often, we get better and faster at it.

There’s a lot of things I can’t do. I can’t play piano. I can’t fix an engine. I can’t build a desk.

But with time and patience, I could probably learn to do any of those things.

And there are some things our participants CAN do that I CAN’T do.

I can’t paint a good picture, but Vince sure can.

Change > Status quo

All it takes is a change in the way we think and look at things.

We need to focus on what individuals with developmental disabilities are capable of doing, not what they aren’t capable of.

Focus on what they can do, not what we think they can’t do.

By doing this, we are preparing our individuals to possibly gain employment in a competitive, integrated setting in our community.

And it takes people like you to consider hiring them in those jobs. Don’t say that you have no jobs that they can do without actually giving them a chance. Instead, think about how you can make reasonable accommodations so that they can succeed.

Giving them the chance to work provides them with increase self-worth, and it provides them with a paycheck which brings them closer to a life of independence.

Isn’t that what all of us really want? To be independent and to feel needed and useful, and appreciated for what we CAN do?

If you have any ideas for us as to how we can do our job better, or how you can help out, give us a shout! We’d love to hear from you.