Liberty begins with knowing that you have choices.
In the late 1970’s, Ethel Garrett was my mentor. She was trained by the Salvation Army to deliver sermons. I needed help with public speaking, so Ethel and I arranged a trade. She would give me feedback on my speeches and I would help her write goals for the participants in the sheltered workshop she managed. I benefited from both the coaching and the writing so much. I decided to pursue a novel idea to ask the participants what they liked or didn’t about their job, and what goals they wanted to pursue.
The interview results were awesome. Imagine my surprise when what I expected turned out to not be the case at all. I had been told to expect that the participants liked hanging out with peers. Here is a sample of the interview;
My job (packaging toilet bowl cleaner) helps the everyday housewife.
My goal is to get promoted to work on the big machines (the shop had both table assembly which the staff knew was the easier work, and complex machines that were harder to operate. What the staff did not know was that the participants knew this too!)
I don’t really like this work. I want to learn to ride SEPTA so that I can go on my own to visit my mother.
I remember these interviews for several reasons. First was that they trusted Ethel, who introduced me to them and by this association, they in turn were comfortable enough to tell me what mattered most to them.
Second, none of these individuals imagined working outside. The work inside, though, that they were doing had the same conditions our staff had for work. The work needed to have meaning and a purpose. Similarly, some of us want to get promoted whether we have a disability or not.
The definition of liberty is the freedoms to pursue your own interest and preferences.
Life is a complex set of circumstances, choices, and possibilities. Our mission is to explore the possibilities with the people we support, make sure they get a chance to discover their interests and then mobilize our support to empower their dreams. All this is very possible when we are open to listen and to ask. Isn’t that exactly what we want, too?