Social Circles, Segregation and Disabilities

The social life of a person with intellectual disabilities is often studied and looked at only from one variable—that of interacting with  others who have or do not have  an intellectual disabilities.  From this model, the  social life is often seen as segregated and isolated with few contacts other than family or paid providers.  There have been some recent postings on various sites about people with disabilities and friends (My Child’s Dream to Have Friends 51 People) and it made me think more about social circles and who is in them.

This is the reality of the situation when a person needs the assistance of another person to interact with others, to take turns in a game, need verbal or physical cues to manage life skills, to  go out to events or attend groups, go to the store , go to the doctor or any other outing which entails leaving the home and no amount of social engineering will change this.

Rather than focusing on the one variable of disability and looking at all contacts as having a disability or not, try looking at social contacts from various angles—what type of people does one interact with?

When looking at social circles from this perspective I think that one may find that the person with intellectual disabilities is much more integrated with a variety of people from various cultures and walks of life than those of us without disabilities.

How many adult women have equal men and women friends?  How many adults have daily contact with people from many different countries and cultures?  How many adults have daily contact with people from all walks of life—from highly paid professionals (doctors and health care providers) to some of the lowest paid workers in our community  – the  caregivers who  work so hard caring for our loved ones? How many have daily contact with people of all ages from college students to the elderly?

I know that my son  learns about many countries and cultures—he knows and experiences various foods from different countries and knows they may have a different religions.    He notices differences and asks about them but he does not make judgments and discriminate—he accepts things as they are.

All people are equal in his eyes—gay people, straight people, poor people, rich people, Black people, Asian People, White people, people who “talk funny” (have an accent because English is their second language) handicapped people in wheelchairs or needing walkers,  people with multiple tattoos and piercings (people who may look scary to me),  yet my son accepts all people equally.  He does not discriminate.

Yes, my son does notice differences and comments on them—sometimes this is difficult in public because in our culture this is taboo.  He is just observant and wants to know about people.    He has opened my world to meeting people from all over the world who I never would have met except for the fact that he asks everyone “What country are you from?”  If I stayed in my own little world and social circle and didn’t travel with him I would have missed out on these opportunities.

Yes, my son does live in a supportive community with others who have intellectual disabilities but his life is far from segregated—it’s completely the opposite and if one examined their own social circle from variables other than if one is disabled or not, we would see very different connections and realize that those who we may think are the most isolated and segregated are actually quite the opposite.



2 comments on “Social Circles, Segregation and Disabilities

  1. Don Weikle says:

    Inclusion has become just as much of an ideology as complete segregation of individuals with disabilities was in the 1800’s, and it is no more productive. All of us tend to select people who share common interests and background as our friends and associates. I love old cars, particularly those of the 40’s, 50’s, and 50’s, and I have friends who share that interest. We have a tendency to seek out those similar to ourselves in age, intellect, and viewpoint, and while we are richer in our experiences the greater the variety of our acquaintances, that tendency is a fact of life. The critical question is whether ones associates, where one lives, where one works, and with whom one has the opportunity to socialize is a matter of choice. If one chooses to live in a group home or an apartment elsewhere in the community, work in a workshop or elsewhere in the community, attend a movie with people of similar intellectual ability or with those of diverse ability, if it is one’s choice then it should be honored whether that choice is politically correct in the eyes of some is immaterial and irrelevant.


    • Thank you for your reply. Yes, we all associate with people who have similar interests and capabilities as ourselves and I do not see why those with intellectual disabilities should not be able to do the same. It’s all about choice and allowing people to make choices. If a person is cognitively not able to do that then their parent/guardian should be able to do that in the person’s best interest – not some “Protection and advocacy” agency which is clueless about that particular person’s life. The P&A agencies tend to look at the system which is flawed and not at the person. Often, the P&A agencies have a conflict of interest – they tend to support closure/consolidation of the supportive communities and therefor do not support the choice of the person.


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