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How support for disability can enable us all

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Inclusivity ensures value for people with disability and carers alike (Image by Cliff Booth via Pexels)

If we make our communities more inclusive of people with disability, everyone in society will benefit, writes Nicholas Haines.

“Can you give me a lift home?”

He is always keen to confirm that at the end of the shift, I will drive him home. The alternative is that his father comes to pick him up. He dislikes that option because it means less time out, less time with me.

“Can we have lunch in the park?”

He always checks that I will stay and have lunch with him in the park near his home. He wants the camaraderie of the shared meal. He wants to extend the time with someone other than his parents.

Once, towards the end of a shift, we were in his local Woolworths when he brushed my arm and murmured, “Someone’s there.” It was his father, standing near a check-out. Quietly we made our way out of the store without being noticed. He didn’t want to be spotted because he sensed that his father would end the shift then and take his son home. That isn’t what he wanted. He wanted to squeeze as much freedom as he could from the day. 

My colleagues and I call him BFG — after the main character in Roald Dahl’s book, The Big Friendly Giant

BFG towers over most people. His voice is gentle and earnest with friends and strangers alike. He reads people’s moods and is quick to show concern. His mind retains names and facts and files them away for future use. BFG asks often after the welfare of someone he met in the past. He gets along best with people who are gentle, like him.

Autonomy is important to BFG. He craves time away from his parents. He wants to do and enjoy the ordinary errands and transactions of daily life. He wants to collect things — books, CDs and DVDs. He revels in the ritual of combing the shelves for a bargain. He has a deep love for the creative arts.

BFG belongs to a music group. When he listens to music he moves his massive body with something that resembles languid finesse. He is tasting life and refining his palette.

Routine is important to BFG. Routines provide stability, comfort and identity. Routines help his social development by bringing him into contact with the same people week after week. He is welcomed by the owners and staff of the record exchange store, the comic book shop and the opportunity shop. He enjoys familiar faces.

One day, an opportunity shop volunteer asked us whether we would be interested in volunteering at Lifeline Bookfest. I arranged for us to meet the volunteer manager at Uniting Care Community headquarters in the city.

BFG found her welcoming and agreed to volunteer. We have since volunteered at several Bookfests. We tidy the rows of books when they become unwieldy. BFG takes pride in the task. He brings a packed lunch. He likes wearing his volunteer’s uniform. There is a sense of mission, of purpose — of contributing. He is trying out a work role. His life tasting continues.

BFG is a gracious host. When he hosts pizza nights at his home, he checks that snacks are circulating among the guests and that everyone has enough to drink until the pizzas slide hot and golden from pizza-maker to plate. At a party, he includes everyone. BFG sees when someone hasn’t been acknowledged for a while. With astute timing, he turns to a guest and nods. He smiles and dispenses a brief comment or question.

The highlight of BFG's social calendar is Halloween. He is fascinated by the occult. He delights in decorating his home with skeletons, ghouls and werewolves. He adores costumes — the more intricate the better.

BFG is an active learner. He perceives details and patterns and expresses his understanding of rules. He pays close attention to the world around him and he loves to people-watch.

He finds beauty in the most unlikely places. Drawn to the cross-river ferry, BFG is only lukewarm about the CityCat. Perhaps it is because the cross-river ferry is cosy and faded, with an engine that you can see and hear and smell. In the cross-river ferry, you can feel the sloshing of the water. The CityCat is large and sleek and glides smoothly and quietly. The inside of the CityCat has the aesthetic of a corporate meeting room. Maybe that is why BFG always asks, “Can we take the little ferry?”

BFG inspires me to be fully present with people — to be grateful for their company. Because of him, I am more attentive when socialising. I value my freedom and autonomy much more than I did before I knew him.

When I struggle to solve a problem and frustration looms, I think sometimes of BFG's gentle curiosity and I make that the lens through which I view the world.

Nicholas Haines works in the disability support sector in Brisbane, Australia. He has a Master’s Degree in Development Practice from the University of Queensland.

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