Separate no more

Every Brookwood citizens has a bicycle for rides through the neighborhood and bike races.

Every Brookwood citizens has a bicycle for rides through the neighborhood and bike races.

It used to be that people who had disabilities often lived a Boo Radley kind of existence – hidden away either in their homes or separated from society in institutions.

The general consensus throughout much of history was that people with disabilities needed to be protected from the general public and vice versa. Many families, who believed they were being punished for some sin, felt shame for having a disabled member.

This mindset explains why so many institutions were built in rural communities in the 20th century. Better to put these so-called “defectives” out of sight.

More progressive attitudes

Thankfully, this belief system has given way to more progressive attitudes. Today, children with disabilities of all kinds attend public school with other children their age. Adults with disabilities have jobs in highly visible places. Members of the disabled community attend sporting events, movies and go out to eat at restaurants.

This kind of inclusiveness is at the heart of the Brookwood Community near Houston.  As reported last week in this space, Brookwood is a community where people with intellectual disabilities, live, work, worship and play.  There are 105 residents and 83 others in the day program who work in the greenhouse, ceramics shops, the restaurant or at other spots on the campus.

Brookwood staff are intentional about making sure their citizens are involved in the surrounding area. Brookwood citizens team with nonprofits and churches for various activities, including game nights, bicycle races and worship services.

They go to Houston Astros and Rockets games, bowling, fishing, to restaurants, movies, libraries and shopping.

An open community

In addition, more than 70,000 people tour Brookwood every year, giving folks the chance to rub shoulders with the citizens as they work and go about their daily living. Visitors also shop in the Brookwood gift shop, which sells items made by the citizens.

The community has a beautiful chapel that is rented out for weddings, exposing a younger adult population to the joys of being around people with intellectual disabilities.

I’m thankful that the world has changed so that places like Brookwood and group homes in residential neighborhoods can exist. I’m thankful, too, that the institutional movement in this country has come to a halt.

For the sake of people like my Uncle Melrose, who lived in institutions and was shut away from society for almost 60 years, it’s a welcome turn of events.