It starts with self-esteem

by Cindie Geddes

Long gone are the days when disability meant institutionalization, or different meant inferior. Today, most of us recognize that, as Kelleen Preston, rehabilitation supervisor at DETR, says, “Quality of life should absolutely be accessible to all and living independently allows for individuals to live with the basic civil rights that should be afforded to everyone.”

Russell Lehmann speaking at the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities in Washington D.C.

Russell Lehmann speaking at the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities in Washington D.C.

But if you need reasons beyond basic human dignity:

  • Independent living saves money. State and federal funding is freed up for other uses as we all come together to support our neighbors.
  • Not only can people with disabilities contribute to the communities in which they live, they want to.
  • Diversity matters. The more people of different abilities come together, the better to practice empathy.

It starts with self-esteem. In order to do something, most of us at least need an inkling that we are capable. And self-esteem can come from just about anywhere. Be it something as seemingly simple as music therapy or as complex as public speaking.

Jodi McLaren, Music Therapist and Program Coordinator at Note-Able Music Therapy Services has seen that anyone who responds to music through listening, playing, dancing or singing is capable of benefiting from music therapy. She has watched people’s lives open up as they find a safe place to express themselves and explore their capabilities.

Russell Lehmann, an autistic poet has gone from barely functioning to working three jobs—all of which give back to the community. He says, “Individuals with disabilities, particularly young individuals, oftentimes have low self-esteem. I used to not have much confidence in myself at all. Now, however, I have all the confidence in the world and truly believe I can accomplish anything I set my mind to, and that I am unstoppable. How did I get here? My support system. My family’s love and support. The acceptance and accommodations I received when I attended a school for kids with special needs. These people believed in me, and I very soon came to believe in myself.”