The JJs List Blog

People with Disabilities and Seniors: The Connection

Posted by on October 11, 2013 - 2 Comments

North Shore Senior Center - Disability Awareness Training

On Thursday and Friday, October 3rd – 4th, the JJ’s List Disability Awareness Players did a Disability Awareness Training for the staff at North Shore Senior Center in Northfield, IL. This was the first time the JJ’s List Disability Awareness Players had facilitated a training for senior care professionals. I was really excited about this training because working with seniors is a passion of mine.

I’ve always felt that I have a special connection with seniors. As a person with disabilities, I feel that I can relate to seniors in a unique way and I have an understanding of some of their situations. I believe seniors and people with disabilities have similar struggles. After all, as people age they often acquire disabilities and can be supported in similar ways to people who have lived with disabilities their entire lives. I think this unique connection means these two communities can encourage each other when it comes to disability awareness.

A few years ago I volunteered at Westminster Place of the Presbyterian Homes in Evanston, IL. As a volunteer it was my job to support residents in getting to and from their activities. There was one gentleman I worked with who needed extra time when eating his breakfast. After breakfast he would put his bib away, and that took quite a long time. Like many seniors, often individuals with disabilities need extra time to do certain tasks. Sometimes I need extra time completing tasks, but that doesn’t mean I can’t or don’t want to do it myself. It frustrates me when someone steps in and tries to take charge of a task that I can do because I am not going as fast as they think I should. I want the dignity and respect to do things independently, just like everyone else.

When I worked with this gentleman at the senior center, I knew first hand how important it was for him to finish putting away his bib independently. So, I would always let him do it for himself and just make myself available if he wanted or needed support. Even though we never talked openly about my giving him more time to do this, I like to think there was this unspoken understanding that we shared the belief that independence is important. I don’t know if he knew about my disability, but I think we shared this special bond and understanding with each other. This was the first time I realized that my disability could be an asset and make me uniquely suited for a job or task. I will never forget the individuals I met and got to know by volunteering at the Presbyterian Homes, and the special bond we shared.

At Thursday’s and Friday’s Disability Awareness Trainings we worked with the North Shore Senior Center staff to explore how seniors and people with disabilities are similar and how to best support both of these communities. Treating everyone with dignity and respect, including seniors and individuals with disabilities, is where it all starts. During the training we discussed best practices for interacting with seniors and people with disabilities. In all of our Disability Awareness Trainings we emphasize person-first-language, asking first before offering help, allowing for extra time, speaking directly to the individual, how to make a space more accessible, and support using sighted guide techniques.

I really enjoyed the training at North Shore Senior Center because it reminded me of the many important lessons I learned while volunteering with seniors. The instinct to help is a good one, but it isn’t so helpful if it takes away a person’s dignity. Helping can take many forms and sometimes it’s as simple as being understanding and patient.

About the Author:

Sarah Armour

Sarah Armour is the Office Assistant at JJ’s List.  She enjoys managing the website, bookkeeping, coordinating the Disability-Awareness Trainings and organizing the Hop on the Bus to Independence Program. She graduated from Loras College in Dubuque, IA, in 2008 with a BA in Sociology. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Debbie De Palma says:
Oct 20, 2013

What a thoughtful and well-written piece! I especially appreciate the observation that helping and supporting any person can sometimes be as simple as being patient, and giving him or her time to do something independently. The vast majority of us will live beyond our 75th birthday. Nobody knows the challenges they will face as they age. We should all remember Sarah’s words when we interact with others, especially seniors and people with disabilities, who so often have similar needs. Thank you, Sarah!

Alex says:
Oct 21, 2013

This article did a great job about explaining your connection with seniors and how it is important to keep in mind how someone else feels, when you are helping them and that it is important for people to keep their dignity.

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