What is compassion? How do we, as members of the greater community, show our regard for people with an obvious disability without making them feel different? How do we include them when their resources are limited? These are questions that most people will have to deal with, at one time or another, as adults with developmental disabilities appear at events and social gatherings.
Our Ranchers are part of their community. They volunteer, they attend local events, they work at local businesses, and they spend their money at local establishments. Most people are appreciative of our Ranchers' ability to function as members of society and of the guidance that our staff gives them in dealing with members of the public. We try very hard to help our Ranchers find a way to make their disability a secondary issue.
However, there is a faction of the community that feels it's necessary to give gifts to our Ranchers simply because of their disability. This group of people is kind hearted and I believe their actions are meant to be a blessing to people whom they see as less fortunate. However, they are, in essence, creating a microcosm of a welfare society. We go to a local festival, a farmer's market, or a church event and our Ranchers come home loaded down with water bottles, hats, scarves, lanyards, pencils, pens, note pads, and trinkets. While they are temporarily thrilled with this outpouring of material kindness, the reality is that it feeds the desire for more "free stuff" and teaches the wrong lessons to people who desperately need to learn to place value on people, character, and relationships rather than material things.
The first result is the creation of people who walk around with their hand out everywhere they go. It fosters a lack of social skills, promotes a misunderstanding of the value of their fellow man, cultivates a disregard for a strong work ethic, and squashes the development of personal generosity. The disabled person comes to believe that the people who are their friends are those who give them "free stuff" in the form of gifts with no real or lasting value. This is dangerous at best, putting the disabled person in peril of being easily taken advantage of.
The second result is that it undermines the efforts of Triangle Cross Ranch to integrate our Ranchers into the community as respected memebers. To be respected, a person needs to have at least an elementary understanding of personal responsibilitiy. Care givers work very hard at teaching this to their charges who have limited understanding. How quickly their efforts are negated by well-intentioned but short sighted people who feel better personally because they gave something to a "poor disabled person." The Rancher obsesses about the next opportunity to get a freebie, to go shopping on someone else's money, and to get more and more stuff to fill the hole that should be filled with self respect, a sense of accomplishment and real relationships.
The third result is a bedroom stuffed with things that do not qualify as resources (no matter how well-intentioned the giver) and lay unused and forgotten as the next opportunity of "free" is pursued. Ranchers have enough trouble managing their essentials without adding volumes of nonessentials to the mix. It creates confusion and frustration along with other associated behavior problems. Obsession, bad temper, angry outbursts, isolation, panic attacks and a host of other issues become the order of the day in their attempts to manage their many useless treasures. The price paid for "free stuff", by staff and Ranchers alike, is great.
Here's the bottom line on kindness to people with disabilities:
God cares about the spiritual formation of each and every person, including the disabled. He is working actively to mold them into His image. All the while, we, as kind-hearted as we think we are being, work against His goals of forming Christ in each person.
Our Ranchers don't need more "stuff." They need to be included as friends who stand on equal footing with other members of the community. Include them in your activities, talk to them without condescending or exaggerated tones, adjust conversations so they can participate, take them in as part of your group, but don't give them anything for free. I don't know about you, but I don't give "free stuff" to all of my friends every time I see them, and the ones who expect it aren't my friends for long. Why would we treat people with disabilities any different? Why would we foster resentment when we could form healthy relationships?
Our Ranchers don't have the real resources to pay for their own living expenses, don't have the skills to produce these resources and don't understand the need for this. Their families pick up the slack or the Rancher does without. These expenses include safe housing, 24-hour staffing, transportation, high quality food, toiletries and all of the basic necessities of living a healthy life style. It's a great irony that adults with developmental disabilities overflow with things they don't need, and yet, so many live in povery or depend on family members to provide the necessities. Trinkets and "free stuff" cannot provide medical services, housing, or loving care, which all come at a high cost. The greatest kindness is to help a person in a real way on a long term and consistent basis. This requires a thoughtful approach and a sacrifice on the part of the giver--both of which will help create the image of Christ in the giver.
So how do we show kindness to people with disabilties? Stop giving them "free stuff." Include them as equal members and donate towards their real needs. If you're going to give, give of yourself in a real way. God has given the free gift of salvation to each of us. That's enough "free" for a lifetime! He asks us to give of our substance and of ourselves to those who need grace and mercy. Keep your "free stuff" for someone else who can bear the cost having it.