“I See Him as a Friend”

Hearing Elmo welcomes guest writers! (I figure you get tired of only hearing my point of view!) Today I welcome a distant cousin, Ted. Ted and I “met” on Facebook, connecting with family and friends in a way only Facebook seems able to do. It is great fun to talk to him because we grew up in the same small town, “middle of nowhere”, farming community. Ted works with a non-profit called “Aids – Out of Africa” (http://www.facebook.com/pages/AIDS-Out-of-Africa/109654919088134) and is also active in his community, helping to dispel myths about people with disabilities. How? By being their friend…

Hope to hear more from Ted in the future!

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When my cousin was asking for stories for the web site about disabilities I was a little confused.   But I walk around in a state of confusion anyway so it didn’t bother me.  I did however start thinking.  Disability is all around us every day.  Sure we recognize the Disabled Vet in the wheelchair or the blind with the service animal, but we miss many of the other truly disabled.  Disability comes to many in all forms.

Having been associated with the Veterans Hospital for the past 30 some years, I have become accustom seeing “Disabilities” and don’t stop to stare or wonder the why’s or what’s of this concentrated elite group of America’s often forgotten service men and women.  Some are missing arms or legs, some are blinded, some in wheelchairs.  But many have hidden  “Problems” that we don’t see.  They are legally blind but do not require a service animal or the typically white cane.  Some are deaf but with the miracles of new hearing devices are able to communicate without being obvious.  When I walk into the audiology clinic, the receptionist, Peggy, greets every patient looking directly at them, speaking clearly, just a touch of volume, and a little slower.  Suddenly I realize that she cares.  That means a lot.  And when scheduled for the optometry clinic the doctor personally called my home to reschedule an appointment because she was being transferred and wanted to personally follow up on a surgery.  I take that kind of service very serious.  I appreciate those who care to go that little extra distance.

Now for the purpose of this writing and the  personal note.  Charlie is a friend, I call him a friend because he always takes the time to come over and speak to my wife and I every Monday at the weekly auction we seem to always attend.  He jokes with us and tells us what has happened during the past week.  If Mary is not with me, he will ask about her and the same if I am not in attendance.  He pats me on the back and makes me happy.  I see him on occasion at different locations all over town.   He is the kind of friend that never complains about his personal problems.  If his personal transportation broke down, I would help him replace or repair as necessary.  However he has a disability that many shy away from.   Charlie is limited mentally.  His appearance also makes many uncomfortable.  His teeth were not taken care of but that is in a stage of repair now.  Most people see him as a nuisance or embarrassment.  I see him as a friend.  I have asked myself what is there about Charlie that makes me proud to be his friend?  It is because his “Disability” only exist in the minds of the “Normal” people around him.  Charlie is seen all over town because although he is not allowed to drive, rides his bike pulling a trailer, around to selected locations to do odd jobs.  He is at the auction because he helps load items for buyers for whatever “Tip” they might give him.  During the night he sometimes shows me how much money he has taken in from his work that night.  In his mind he is not “Disabled”.  He is however truly challenged.   He lives alone, and pays his rent.  He wears clean clothes, and is showered and shaved.  I cannot compare him to all the people that thinks the world owes them a living because he makes his own lemonade out of the lemons that nature has dealt him.

So as we walk past people at Wal-Mart, or set beside them on a bus, we don’t really understand the limits of their “Disabilities”….. Perhaps better yet we do not understand their unlimited  “Abilities”.  Maybe the person just needs a friend.  I don’t think the word “Disabilities” is a true description.  I think that the word Challenged is better.  But neither fits my friend Charlie for in his mind he is not challenged nor disabled,  he is making a living the only way he knows how.  If he receives a little help along the way, that’s great.  But he would rather be accepted as is, where is.  So when you are asked to repeat a statement because the person could not hear or more likely not understand you, don’t get angry or say, “Forget it” for they can’t forget.  Try to be more like Peggy, louder, slower and facing them.    If the vision impaired need a little assistance, offer to help.  Just a, “Need some help with that?”, can make a person’s day.   It might even make your day.  An older person might be struggling to reach an item off the shelve.  When you hand it to them, there is a moment where you feel like you have really done something great and you have.

Ted C. Burhenn.

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