We were at Dave and Busters in the arcade after having had a birthday lunch, complete with a home made purple birthday cake from Marissa and the girls, playing games. Joe and Ruby were in some contraption called “the Typhoon” and having a blast. I was sitting off to the side watching the screen. I noticed a man with an intellectual disability who moved in ways different than others come and stand behind to watch. He seemed fascinated by the game and the machinery it used. In his right hand he held a card, like all the rest of us he had a playing card used to pay for games.

He, it turned out, wasn’t alone. He was with another man who was close by who seemed to simply follow him about. He, the other man, also had a game card in his hand. Then I noticed the staff who was with them, he was watching a third man playing a game. If I wasn’t in the sector, I would have found it difficult to identify the staff. I couldn’t SEE him. He was right there, he wasn’t a small man, but I couldn’t SEE him.

Because he didn’t do anything ‘staffy’. He didn’t control the cards, he didn’t control the choices, he wasn’t hovering about worried about the sensibilities of those uncomfortable with difference. These men were together but untethered. They moved about freely. FREEly.

I approached the staff and asked him if was supporting these men. He said he was and I said, “Well I want you to know you are doing one hell of a job! These men have their own cards, play their own games, make their own choices, it feeds my soul to see this today. I then told him my name and what I did for a living and I asked what agency he worked for and he told me. “You have given me the best birthday present ever,” I said and meant.

I will not congratulate the agency. Not yet. That’s premature. I congratulate HIM. He works in the system but has not been infected by it. He sees these men as capable as citizens as choice makers. One day the system may catch up to him but for now I’m just glad he’s in it.

In every way imaginable Direct Support Professionals have power in the lives of people with disabilities. Some choose to use it, some choose to misuse it and some give it back. This man and his easy-going nature was diligent without being belligerent. There are probably those in his agency that don’t like their jobs, that blame ‘the system’ and ‘the supervisors’ for everything … those whose attitudes sour the days of those they support.

I have them ask me questions when I give lectures, “How can I do these things when my boss blah, blah blah?” This man has a boss. This man has expectations placed upon his shoulders. This man navigates the same system. And yet he know how to be free of it. He knows how to create freedom for those I support.

For someone like me, who has been part of the movement towards adult rights for adult people, for human rights for human people, for disabled rights for disabled people, it feels good to see the realization of what once was a lofty goal.

It feels good.

Really good.

Happy Birthday to Me.

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