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Thankful to Be Welcome at the Table

By DEBORAH KENDRICK · November 16th, 2005 · In My View
Next Thursday we'll be celebrating America's favorite holiday. There are no obligations except for eating, being with people you love and thinking things thankful.

I can be glib about a lot of things, but not on this pretty much untainted holiday. The mundane becomes magnificent; the jocularity and joy of just being with people we love is so corny and spectacular.

Cooking all those piles of food is a privilege on this one day. The fire seems like the warmest one we've ever had. The football in the afternoon and board games in the evening all carry such a treasure trove of nostalgia and, whether with the family of origin or choice, every one of us who shares the day with people we love knows what it is to be genuinely thankful for the basics.

But this column is supposed to be about the experience of disability. Thus I ponder the connection.

Well, of course, people with disabilities eat turkey and pumpkin pie. People with disabilities have families they sometimes see only on holidays. People with disabilities watch their share of football, bring memories good and bad to the family gathering and generally reflect on the good fortune of having a job or school or other niche specific.

No matter what aspect of being a human you consider, there are going to be more similarities than differences connecting people with to those without disabilities. But there are unique areas for which we experience gratitude, too. Speaking, then, for millions -- one in every five -- with disabilities, I'll tell you a few areas engendering gratitude in 2005.

People who use wheelchairs are thankful when they get to a job interview and the interviewer doesn't stare at their legs, the chair or some other physical reminder of difference.

They're thankful if they can get into the interviewer's office.

They're thankful to get the interview at all.

People with developmental disabilities are thankful when their rights to live in the community -- rather than an institution -- are supported by others and when they're not ignored simply because they talk or walk or process information a bit more slowly than five other people in the room.

People who are hard of hearing are thankful when others don't shout angrily at them when asked to repeat. They're thankful for clear speech and acoustically friendly environments and assistive listening devices at performances and recreational events.

People who are dyslexic are thankful when information is offered in both visual and audible formats.

People who are visually impaired are thankful for larger print on restaurant menus and brightly lit public places.

People who are deaf are thankful for the increasing familiarity with American Sign Language and for movies that provide captioning.

People with all those disabilities you can't see -- diabetes and lupus and multiple sclerosis and asthma and epilepsy and fibromyalgia and dozens more -- are thankful that others simply try to understand and respect that they alone know best their capabilities and limitations.

People who deal with those invisible brain-chemistry disabilities such as depression and bipolar disorder are thankful for the people in their lives who don't call them "crazy" or "lazy" and who recognize the importance or stability and medication.

People who are blind are thankful for those who can answer questions with spoken words rather than pointing or pictures. They're thankful for talking ATMs, audible traffic signals and braille menus, too.

Parents of children with disabilities are thankful for teachers willing to present material in ways their children can understand, who recognize that "different" does not equate to "inferior" and that all kids have a right to an education.

We're all thankful for people who know that we all speak the same language. It's OK, in other words, to ask a person with a disability if he/she we saw a movie, heard a joke or walked to work today -- even if the person doesn't literally see, hear or walk.

At my house, I'll be thankful that my daughters like to bake the pumpkin pie, that the guys will probably do the dishes and that we'll definitely have a rousing game of rummy or Monopoly before the day is done.

When you get down to it, actually, most people with disabilities are particularly thankful when others pretty much forget about the disabilities altogether -- and, of course, remember to invite them to the table.



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