I’ve had a lot of conversations with youth with intellectual disabilities about what kinds of jobs they’d eventually like to have.
Many of them have no idea. They’re used to other people making their decisions for them, and they didn’t know that they even could get a job, let alone have a say in what job they wanted to have.
Some of them have a vague idea. They’d like to get a job that pays in a job in a field that’s interesting to them. A boy that really liked cars wanted to be a mechanic; another wanted to work with animals; a girl wanted to travel and take pictures of the places she’d been.
Some have *plans*: college, a trade, working at a specific place, missionary work. One young woman wanted to be a Hollywood actress.
No matter how unlikely it’s seemed that a person with disabilities may reach a goal, I never say, “No, that’s not something you’ll be able to do.” It’s not my place. Everyone I know was allowed to have dreams when they were growing up. People with disabilities are allowed to have them too.
The Meaning of “Support”
My parents loved the theatre (my dad still does), and took whatever opportunity they could to expose my sister and I to a variety of theatre experiences. When I was ten, long before I acquired my disabilities, we went to see the National Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker”. Already a dance lover, my heart was won over by the fact that the children on the stage were students at the National Ballet School. I wrote to NBS to get audition information, and for two years in a row my family took me to the Ottawa auditions.
I didn’t get in, of course. I was a chubby pre-teen who’d never have a dancer’s body (or the stamina or discipline required to do ballet at NBS) no matter how hard I tried. And I suspect that my parents knew this. But they covered the costs of the auditions and two family weekends in Ottawa, never once suggesting that it was a waste of their time and money, and were the soft place to fall when I was rejected both times. And they urged me to continue with dance in spite of my disappointment, because it was something I enjoyed.
Few of the youth with the big plans, as far as I know, have gone on to live their dreams. Some community colleges do have programs especially for people with intellectual disabilities, but they’re mostly focused on life skills and basic academics; the young people start to see, once they investigate what they’d need academically to do the career programs, that they’d find the work very, very challenging. The young woman who wanted to be a Hollywood actress backed off on it once we did some investigation together and she realized just what would be involved.
“But,” I said to her. “It doesn’t mean that you couldn’t try to work in video rental store when you’re done school, does it? Where you’d be around movies all the time and you could maybe even suggest movies to customers if they asked?”
She liked that idea. When the young man discovered that he couldn’t volunteer in a vet’s office because of liability issues, he started a dog-walking business. And plenty of people who never considered working go on to get jobs in the community where the work may not be glamourous, but it’s interesting for them. And they get paid to do it, because someone’s got to do it.
Learning to Live with Disappointment
And of course people are disappointed at first when they realize that their dream job is beyond their reach, just as I was when I realized that my dream of being a ballerina was beyond mine. But everyone has to learn to deal with disappointment, and learn to find a way to move on. That’s a part of life, both for people with disabilities and without.
Some people see me as setting people up for failure when I don’t tell them from the outset that they won’t be able to do something. But I refuse to tell people that they’re not allowed to dream.