February is often a month when we focus on love and friendships. Merriam-Webster defines a friend as a person whom you like and enjoy being with. Friendship is a voluntary, reciprocal relationship in which two people exhibit mutual attachment to one another, enjoy frequent proximity and companionship, and display evidence of enjoyment or affection. But, in a world that still largely segregates and congregates people with disabilities of all ages, this can be a challenge.
The benefits of friends are undisputed. Friends can inspire each other to adopt healthy habits and people with friends recover more quickly from illness. There is a reduced risk of many significant health problems, including depression, high blood pressure, and unhealthy body mass index among adults with strong social ties. Friends increase our sense of belonging and purpose, self-confidence and self-worth. Friendships can boost happiness and reduce stress. Friends help us celebrate good times and offer support and encouragement during hard times.
When an individual with disabilities receives support from staff members, there is a tendency to consider staff “friends.” Good staff develop trusting and respectful relationships with the people they serve, they get to know the person well, and often commit to this role for extended periods of time. But they are paid relationships. Friendships should not be paid relationships.
There is a wealth of information available on how to be a friend, how to make friends, how to maintain friendships, etc. The bottom line is simple: we all NEED friends. Basic needs are food, water, shelter, rest and safety. Just above those needs is the need to belong – relationships and friends. People with disabilities have all the very same needs, including the need for friends.
Friendships take work and becoming friends with someone with a disability can often be difficult. But it can also be immensely rewarding. One blogger said, “because f my friendships with people with disabilities, I am more aware of people who might need a friend.” If you aren’t sure how to be a friend to someone with a disability, check out the tips to the right. Read the list carefully. Reread it. There is nothing special about the list. In fact, it should just be titled, “Tips for Being a Friend.”
Nearly all the people we serve here at Nishna Productions have a goal for community or social interaction. Even with the support of staff, it can be hard to find opportunities to get involved and meet new people (potential friends), especially since the pandemic protocol encourages social distancing. We have started a pen pal program, because who doesn’t love to get fun mail? Our Bee-a-Buddy program in Shenandoah and Red Oak was put on hold due to COVID, but we will be starting it up again on a limited basis in April. There are many ways to meet and build friendships. For more information about opportunities through Nishna Productions, email me at email@example.com.
Almost 1 in 5 people in the US have a disability of some kind. Almost everyone has someone in their life who is disabled. I encourage you to reach out to someone with a disability and offer your friendship. You have a lot to offer, but you may be surprised by how much you also have to gain. At the very least, don’t overlook a potential friendship because of a disability. You need friends and they need you. Friendships of all kinds help you lead a more fulfilling life.