Google maps found us a mall where we could stop for lunch. We were on a 12 hour drive heading to Georgia where I am presenting for a couple of days and we were getting a bit hungry. The mall, as promised, was just off the Interstate so it was perfectly placed for a quick get off, get back on.
We found a parking space and headed in. Right at the door there was a directory and we found that we had parked at the furthest point from the food court and both of us were pleased. Joe would get a short walk and I would be able to have a bit of a push and stretch some muscles. It became clear that this was a mall that had fallen out of favour and there were few people there and there were signs that stores were slowly dying.
We got to the food court, found a local eatery that served bean burgers, and placed our order. Just after we arrived four people arrived, some with physical and all with intellectual disabilities. accompanied by staff. They went about and ordered their food and then came back together at a table.
Once together they were eating, talking, laughing, they looked and sounded like they were simply enjoying one another’s company. Around them sat couples or families, each on their own phones, there were also several tables where people sat alone, some reading, some simply people watching.
It looked for all the world like they had found community and the others needed social workers to help them integrate, or maybe they needed a movement for inclusion to have them more socially engaged.
Of course, this impression was made only because the direct support professionals were doing their job right. They were there, they were attentive, they helped this happen – they had also obviously fostered social skills and social interaction between each of those there. Everyone, not just the staff, were treated as if they had value.
Sometimes we are the community and the power of that should never be diminished.