Last year, one of the students participating in the Friendly Housemates project was in my office to talk about an assignment from one of her courses. I asked her, generally, how things were going. My intention was not to check up on her, but to let her know that I was interested in her general welfare. She told me a story about her Friendly Housemates experience.
As a college student and a Friendly Housemate she said that she had to take a long bus ride to get to the campus and back home. One day, on the way home, the winter weather was very stormy and she was
feeling tired. She was happy to be going home but drained of energy. The bus was crowded and hot. As she got to her shared townhome, she noticed that the front sidewalk to the door had been shoveled. It was still snowing and blowing. Her roommate met her on the sidewalk and helped her to get into their home. He was worried about her because the weather was bad, she was late getting home and he didn’t want her to slip. This small, intimate experience typifies the value of sharing a home with a person who has an intellectual disability. When we share a home and a relationship with a person, we come into intimate contact with them and that intimacy is the essence of who we are as humans. People who have intellectual disabilities have made many gains in recent years: living in communities, shopping and enjoying what communities offer, participating in education and employment, determining what their lives will be like and enjoying their families.
Recently, a family support worker told me that young people who have intellectual disabilities have a very good sense of what they want out of life and what they are missing. She said that they want the same things as their sisters and brothers do: to enter post-secondary education, to move out of the house on their own, to become independent and enter the world of work. In a careful way, the Friendly Housemates can offer a sliver of that dream and a step to independence. One of the most challenging things to help create for a person with an intellectual disability is a relationship with another people. People have relationships with their support workers, their families and others with intellectual disabilities but not with valued people. Having someone care enough about you to shovel the walk so that you get home safely on a stormy night after a long day is what people have to offer each other regardless of their ability or disability. It is often the small things in life that give us meaning and they come from the people around us who care.
Author – Donald Easson