Private and Public Policy Reviews for the Disabled

It’s Their World Too

Behavioral Accommodations

By Stephen Rex Goode, BSW

ddAs a skills trainer and behavior support specialist for developmentally disabled adults, I often find myself in the community and in the company of people whose behavior is often outside the realm of what other people find comfortable. In many situations, the reactions of my customers are often overstated by social norms and draw the attention of people.

There was a time when the looks I would get would be full of disdain and contained a nonverbal message like, “Can’t you control that person?”

Well, the truth is, I can’t control them, nor do I wish to. Every society has a way of doing things that the majority of people in the society think of as normal. For example, in a movie theater, you are supposed to laugh at the funny parts. Sometimes, I’m with people who laugh at not-so-funny parts, and when the funny parts come, they laugh even louder.

Not long ago, as I was taking a customer to go swimming, I stopped to use the restroom while my customer went to where his locker is. There is always some peppy music playing over the sound system. When I rounded the corner, there was my customer, in full frontal glory, doing a happy dance to the beat of the song that was playing. He was having fun. I laughed. It wasn’t a busy time in the locker room, so no one saw him but me. I’m glad, because men can get pretty judgmental about how other men behave in there.

Sometimes, my customers will talk very loud and make a ruckus that draws angry stares from people in the vicinity. The other day, we were in an office foyer and my customer was talking very loud. A man came out of one of the offices and demanded we keep it down.

It isn’t my job to control this behavior, but it is my job to teach my customers how to control their own behavior. I do this through induction and modeling. In other words, I tell them how and I show them how. Whether they choose to alter their behavior is completely their choice.

Induction is the process of reasoning with a person. It assumes that the person has the ability to understand their actions and the resulting consequences. I have found that most developmentally disabled adults have this ability to some degree.

Modeling is the process of exhibiting a behavior by example, not just as a teaching tool, but as a way of life that my customer can see as working for me.

And, I ask, “Why not? Why shouldn’t they be able to choose their own behavior to the best of their ability?”

I am also often in the company of people who can’t control their behavior, like with a person with cerebral palsy who has a hard enough time speaking without having to also worry a lot about volume. There are also nonverbal people who can’t speak or control loud noises they make.

In former times, and not so long ago, we would lock such people out of sight of the rest of the world. Today, we do our best to help them integrate into the community, to be part of things. Yet, despite improvements, there are still some who want them out of sight and out of mind.

At my gym, I’ve been told by some members that they don’t want me bringing my “crazies” to the gym. As much as I wish I were surprised at such behavior, I think it is still part of our culture to want things to be a certain way.

There is another side to the dilemma. I completely understand that people want to be comfortable, especially when they’ve paid money to enjoy themselves and feel that people who don’t seem to be able to control their behavior are infringing on that enjoyment.

My own tolerance was challenged recently when I went to a theater to see a show. I was accompanying two people who need mobility devices and one other companion. Before us in line were several other disabled adults, one of whom kept laughing out loud every few minutes. I really wondered how I would feel if I ended up in the same theater with that group.

I try to put myself into other people’s places. Let’s say that I have gone to a movie theater to enjoy a movie. I’ve paid for my ticket and I hope to have a relaxing and enjoyable time. A local group home for developmentally disabled adults has brought some residents to enjoy the movie, but one of them can’t seem to control herself when it comes to making sounds and laughing at inappropriate times. What do you think should happen?

Somewhere there is a balance and I don’t claim to know what that balance is. I’m inclined to make personal allowances and try to show some tolerance. I know that I expect accommodations to be made for my disability. When a store doesn’t provide a scooter or the disabled parking spaces are full, I get irritated. I think that if the store wants me to be their customer, they need to help me shop there.

I’m somewhat of a libertarian in my way of thinking. I don’t necessarily think that legislation is the answer. I like it when things are market-driven. We who are disabled are and should be a formidable customer base. We have our own money. I don’t have to spend it at establishments that make it difficult for me to be their customer. That should be incentive enough.

Yet, there’s not a lot about my disability that makes it hard for people to enjoy a movie in the same theater with me. I’m well-behaved by the social standards of most people. Yet, as much as I am frustrated by the lack of accommodations for my disability, how must it be for people who can’t express their frustrations as forcefully and articulately¬† as I can?

When I’m in professional mode, knowing that it is part of my job to advocate for people who need my help, I am frustrated on their behalf when establishments and our society try to exclude them. We all have to live in this world together. I like my world a certain way, but I keep reminding myself that it is their world too.

 

 

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One Response to “It’s Their World Too”

  1. Rochelle said:

    I feel this way often! My job as a provider is not to help them perfectly mold into accepted norms, but to find a balance between being themselves and not being disruptive, rude, illegal etc. That is a balance we all have to strive for and it is different for everyone.

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