Others’ expectations stand in the way of people with disabilities

Friday, June 8, 2018 6:15 PM

On Tuesday, the Durango community hosted a fun, informational, free event that you probably missed.

For the past two years, San Juan Board of Cooperative Education Services has expanded its end-of-the-year Growing Together conference to include “Family Day,” when kids and adults with disabilities, their family members and other community professionals can join educators to learn together.

This year’s event, “Now What?,” focused on life’s transitions – from home to school; elementary to secondary school; school to higher education and adulthood; and adulthood to growing independence. Topics focused on a variety of issues of interest to children and adults with disabilities and the people who support them, including guardianship, relationships, money management, disability rights and self-care. There was also time for some fun, with music and dancing and art.

The climax of the day was a showing of the film “Learning to Drive,” written and directed by Roderick E. Stevens. Stevens was inspired to create this film by his own experience with his younger brother, Andy, learning to drive. When Andy first approached his big brother to teach him to drive, Roderick resisted. He believed a person with Down syndrome couldn’t get a driver’s license.

Roderick soon learned that in reality, people with Down syndrome can get a license; indeed, they do it all the time. Once Roderick realized that he was the only thing standing in his brother’s way of driving, he not only taught his brother to drive, he decided to do something to dispel the myth that he was certain others had as well.

The result was Learning to Drive, a short fictional film about two brothers on a road trip to Arizona to scatter their mother’s ashes. I won’t spoil the plot, but I will say that Roderick and Andy’s story is a strong influence.

The movie’s viewers were doubly blessed by the presence of Connor Long, the actor who plays the character modeled on Andy. Long’s message was in perfect keeping with the theme of the entire day. The only thing standing in the way of people with disabilities, and especially intellectual disabilities, is the expectations of others.

Long is, of course, a very talented young man, and we can’t all be award-winning actors. But there’s a lot we can all learn from his story. Step one, Long had a goal for his life and he expressed it. Step two, the people around him listened.

In an alternate universe, Long’s family, friends, teachers and other people with influence in his life could have told him his dream was unattainable, inappropriate and he’d never make a living as an actor. In that universe, the walls of low expectations built around him would likely have prevented Long’s success. It probably would have prevented him from even trying. Those same walls could have prevented Andy Stevens from learning to drive. We’re all benefiting from the fact they didn’t.

Want advance notice for the Growing Together Conference Family Day 2019? Follow us on Facebook at CommunityConnectionsCOInc for information on this and other disability-related events.

Tara Kiene is president and CEO of Community Connections Inc.