Texas Co-Op Power magazine features story behind ‘My Father’s Eyes’

This is a big moment for “My Father’s Eyes.” The book is featured in an article in Texas Co-Op Power magazine’s February issue.

Lots of folks haven’t heard of this magazine, especially if you don’t get your electricity from an electric co-op. But if you do, you get the magazine.

The publication has a circulation of more than 1 million and is read by more than 3 million people.

I’m thrilled about this not only because it’s valuable attention for the book, but also because it shines light on the theme of the book.

And that is that people with disabilities are often shoved to the sidelines. But they are no different from anyone else, and if we give them a chance, they have much to give.

Check it out!

Baby boomers beware

Disabled-Paper-Figure-5264557Some people may wonder why I blog about disability issues. The simple and most direct reason is that I once had an uncle with a profound intellectual disability. He had such a powerful healing effect on me that I wrote a book about him called My Father’s Eyes, due out later this year.

There are other reasons that I focus on this issue. As I’ve researched and studied the world that people with disabilities live in, I’ve become more and more concerned about their welfare.

And I’ve learned that there are an awful lot of folks who have some kind of physical or mental limitation. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 56.7 million Americans have a disability of some sort. That’s almost 20 percent of our population. That’s a lot of people.

Expand your definition of disability

When the Census Bureau puts out numbers like these, they are counting more than those who live their lives in wheelchairs or in institutions. They’re counting people who have visual and hearing impairments, intellectual and mental disabilities, and folks who use a cane or a walker and those who have difficulty dressing, managing their money and other activities.

Here’s my point. There are people with disabilities all around us. If we stop to think about what disability really means, then we realize that there are lots of people in our immediate vicinity who are counted as disabled by the Census Bureau.

There’s my friend with a mental illness. There’s my mother, who uses a walker and needs help pulling her medications together. There’s my yoga instructor, who has severe scoliosis but still manages to teach classes. There’s the 102-year-old lady at church who needs a hearing aid to hear the sermon.

We may all face disability

I would say that 20 percent of the population means disabilities are ubiquitous in our society. Yet, on the 23rd anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we still have a long way to go before recognizing the impact of these numbers and addressing the needs of these folks.

Less than half of them of working age have jobs. About a third live in poverty. Many of them receive one or more kinds of government assistance, including access to health care, housing and social services. In 2008, the federal government spent $357 billion on programs and services for working age people with disabilities.

As the Census Bureau points out, the numbers are growing as the Baby Boom generation ages.

So here’s my final point. Not only does each of us probably know more than one person with a disability, odds are that we may join their ranks sometime in the future.

It behooves all of us to care about this population and to make sure their needs are met and that they have a chance to live healthy, productive lives.

How people with disabilities can transform your life

215px-Rain_Man_posterI’ve been going to a lot of movies lately, watching everything from dramas to science fiction to  stories of historical events and even tales of the mystical and fantasy. But I have to admit that I am particularly moved by films that inspire me, and I haven’t seen a movie that does that in quite some time.

One such motion picture that fit the bill for me (and goes along with the theme of National Autism Awareness Month) was Rain Man, starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. This 1988 film is about a man (Raymond Babbitt played by Dustin Hoffman) who is both autistic and a savant.

Tom Cruise plays Hoffman’s brother Charlie Babbitt, who does not know he has a brother until after their father’s death. The father’s will leaves almost the entire estate to Raymond, who has lived in an institution since he was a child. The movie is mostly about Charlie’s attempt to get a share of the money.

Focus on autism

Charlie also uses Raymond’s skills at card counting to win money at casinos in Las Vegas. The film is partially accurate in its portrayal of autism. Raymond is a creature of habit, demanding fish sticks on a certain night every week and insisting on watching the Jeopardy game show every day when it comes on television.

He also exhibits rocking behavior and does not establish eye contact with others — both symptoms of autism.

But as experts point out, not all who have autism exhibit the characteristics Raymond has. There are many manifestations of autism and those who have it can land anywhere on the broad autism spectrum.

Rain Man was important because it shed light on the subject of autism at a time when it wasn’t a widely discussed human condition. It was also important because it showed how people with disabilities – even severe ones — can have a powerful impact on others.

People like Raymond have much to offer

In the case of this film, Charlie starts out trying to use his brother to get money. After many adventures together, Charlie learns to love and accept his brother and transforms from a user to a caretaker.

This is the message that I find so inspiring in Rain Man. It is the same message I learned from my Uncle Melrose, who had an intellectual disability. I found that if I spent time with him and honored his needs – even though they didn’t match my own – that the rewards would be a sense of peace and the knowledge of his unconditional love.

The bottom line is this: People who have disabilities can have a transformative effect on those around them. It’s just up to those of us around them to pay attention and learn the lessons they can teach us.