What is a disability? I have given that a lot of thought. Most of my career has been spent in direct service to adults with disabilities, and I have wondered about the best way to share with people how labels can be a barrier to truly understanding the reality of another’s life. A lot of that understanding comes firsthand as I am a lifelong advocate for my strong, beautiful, jovial sister who has cerebral palsy and other severe disabilities. My sister is the reason that I have made serving adults with disabilities my calling and my passion.

I’m going to let Elaine Popovich do the heavy lifting in this post. Her poem, You and I, really hit home for me and shows how people who have developmental disabilities feel when they are defined by their disability first. I hope you will share it with others.

You and I
By Elaine Popovich

I am a resident. You reside.
I am admitted. You move in.
I am aggressive. You are assertive.
I have behavior problems. You are rude.
I am non-compliant. You don’t like being told what to do.

When I ask you out for dinner, it’s an outing. When you ask someone out, it’s a date.

I don’t know how many people have read the progress notes people write about me. I don’t even know what is in there. You didn’t speak to your best friend for a month after they read your journal.

I make mistakes during my check-writing program. Someday I might get a bank account. You forgot to record some withdrawals from your account. The bank called to remind you.

I wanted to talk with the nice looking person behind us at the grocery store. I was told that it was inappropriate to talk to strangers. You met your spouse in the produce department. They couldn’t find the bean sprouts.

I celebrated my birthday yesterday with five other residents and two staff members. I hope my family sends a card. Your family threw you a surprise party. Your brother couldn’t make it from out of state. It sounded wonderful.

My case manager sends a report every month to my guardian. It says everything I did wrong and some things I did right. You are still mad at your sister for calling your mom after you got that speeding ticket.

I am on a special diet because I am five pounds over my ideal body weight. Your doctor gave up telling you. I am learning household skills. You hate housework. I am learning leisure skills. Your shirt says you are a “couch potato.”

After I do my budget program tonight, I might get to go to McDonald’s if I have enough money. You were glad the new French restaurant took your charge card.

My Case Manager, Psychologist, R.N., Occupational Therapist, Physical Therapist, Nutritionist and house staff set goals for me for the next year. You haven’t decided what you want out of life.

Someday I will be discharged – maybe. You will move onward and upward!

You and I is reprinted with permission from The Arc of Massachusetts.

Caption: Katie Hescock at Gettysburg

Matthew Hescock is a regional manager for developmental services with Lutheran Family Services of Virginia. Besides being an all-around nice guy, father, and passionate advocate for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, he helps recruit Family Care Home providers for adults with disabilities so that they may live an abundant life in their communities.