It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Childrens’ shows like Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street usually show a neighborhood and try to teach kids what I call sandbox 101- how to get along with each other- through the neighbors. It’s a great learning tool for kids but I do think adults should have a show where they can get a refresher course every now and then.

And I think we could use an extra credit course on the topic of being a neighbor to a person with a disability.

I have had good experiences getting along with my neighbors. When I was growing up, my neighbors were like second, third and fourth sets of parents – right around the block. In Michigan, my neighbor who was elderly became a good friend. When I moved back East, I got along well with my neighbors.

I always took care of outside things like the lawn, would bring in and put out the garbage cans in a timely manner and do a neighborly favor. Going on a trip? I’d take the mail. Expecting a package? I’ll watch out for it. Need a babysitterin an emergency? That’s fine. Need help shoveling? No problem.

Then I acquired my disability. Suddenly I couldn’t physically do some of the things listed above. My relationship with my neighbors changed. I had to hire and depend on others to do the outside things – and sometimes the garbage cans were not brought in and out on the exact day but a day or two later. Hints were dropped – verbal and nonverbal. Things became tense .

Once I was able to develop over time better ways to get these things done, things calmed down. Talking about it also helped – although it took time. What folks didn’t get – and don’t get – is that behind closed doors, I was dealing with the same situation that’s outside 24/7. There were gaps in help due to limited resources.

But my neighbors didn’t know that for one simple reason: they never came inside to find out despite invitations.

This is a ticklish subject because by no means am I criticizing anyone, just pointing out that humans tend to judge what they don’t understand. It’s not a matter of making it someone else’s problem, but working toward understanding the change in circumstances living with a disability creates. I’m not trying to put anything on anyone or place expectations on people. For example, I’m not expecting my neighbors to help with my garbage cans on that one, two or three weeks out of 52 weeks a year when my help can’t come over. It would be nice, but I don’t expect it. I pay someone else. It’s just that it might take a day or two to get someone to do it on those rare occasions. What I’m asking for is a reasonable response to my reality – not a free ride.

As I watch other people with disabilities move into the community and deal with similar issues, I am haunted by one question:

Where is Fred Rogers when we need him?

Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan

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