News & Events

Lessons from Mary – Status and Control

What is Status and Control?

Have you ever really thought about what having status and control means in your life?  Or let me rephrase that. Have you ever thought about what having little or no status or control would actually feel like?

Imagine if you and a friend walked into a grocery store to get groceries. During your stroll through the store, people said, “hello” to your friend. They never even looked at you. Or worse, they did everything they could to avoid you, even if you spoke to them?  What if you went to pay and the cashier looked at and spoke to your friend? What if the cashier told your friend the total to be paid, even though they were YOUR groceries?  Then what if, even though YOU handed them the money, they STILL asked your friend if they want paper or plastic sacks?

A Reality for People We Support

Let’s face it, those experiences would leave us feeling pretty crappy.  I don’t know about you, but for me it would likely make me pretty angry.  Hopefully, that little thought experiment gave you a glimpse of what not having status and control might be like.  We know people with intellectual disabilities face this type of experience over and over and over! I’d like to share what Mary has recently taught me about it supporting status and control.

An Unexpected Status Boost

Mary was asked by the Oklahoma People First organization to go to Austin, Texas and speak on the steps of their capitol.  They were rallying for people with disabilities.  Earl and I were fortunate enough to have the opportunity to take Mary on this journey. Through this experience, I learned so much.

After our trip, we shared some amazing videos through social media. The videos showed Mary practicing what she would say then speaking on the steps of the Texas Capitol.  I knew people would enjoy watching Mary’s great moments. What I did not expect, was just how much it would elevate Mary in the eyes of people who had watched her journey with us for years.

As an important part of our family, Mary is a regular presence with us in our community.  She has met many people we’ve known through the years and she’s a Facebook star just like Earl, aka, “New Country.”  Because Mary is a regular part of who we are and what we do, people’s responses to her Texas videos surprised me.  More importantly, the responses are giving me something important to consider. So, here I am writing another lesson that Mary has taught me.

Taking a Backseat

In the weeks after sharing the video, I continue to receive private messages and texts from friends about Mary and her role in their lives.  One said, “I saw Mary when I was getting my nails done today and she is so nice and very funny.”  I’ve been getting a couple of messages a week about people being out and seeing Mary around town.  As the messages come, I use them as an opportunity to ask them if they took the time to chat with her.

Some say, “yes” others say “no,” they just saw her from a distance.”  If they say, “no,” I always suggest that if they see her again, “please introduce yourself and tell her that you know me. I let them know she would love to meet them and visit.  I let them know how much she has meant to me through the years.  When I can sneak it in, I let them know some of the great things she is doing like singing in the choir at church, training new employees, etc. I am trying to use these conversations to switch the focus from me and my role in Mary’s life to Mary and the amazing contributor she is to her community.

Mary in Charge

I have really learned that by accepting the opportunity to speak for people’s rights Mary has elevated her status and control in the community.  People are seeing her differently. She is now viewed as a contributing member of her community in their eyes. They are no longer avoiding, ignoring or just plain walking past her without noticing.  We still have a long way to go, but Mary is showing me that SHE is in charge of her destiny. She simply needs opportunities where SHE can be seen as the contributor and teacher. We need to help her be seen as important to but separate from those of us who love her. We need to try to avoid getting in the way of her relationships with others.

What About You?

Can you think of examples of people you support who have elevated the way others think about them just by doing things that matter to them?  What opportunities can you help people take advantage of to will help them be viewed as contributing to their community?  What is YOUR role in it all?  How will you take a backseat, so to speak, so that people gain status and control with those around them?

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