By Michael Rock
Kindness is an important attribute for anyone to demonstrate to others. Tragically, people with disabilities may not experience it as frequently as those without due to deeply-ingrained stereotypes.
Just a few basic acts of kindness that people with disabilities will appreciate can include socializing with them, respecting their boundaries, including them in activities, presuming their competence, and ensuring they have access to the supports they need.
The late Jean Vanier, inspired by his Roman Catholic faith, recognized such acts of kindness and others when he founded L’Arche at a time when those with disabilities were seen more for their challenges than the value they have to offer those around them. His work has led to the establishment of 154 such communities under the umbrella of L’Arche. They span 38 countries covering five continents.
Perhaps the most important way a society can promote kindness is if its parents can instill it in their children early on. They should demonstrate model behavior in interacting with people different from themselves, trying to find similarities in spite of the more obvious differences, instilling empathy in children, fostering an environment of open communication at home, and recognizing that kindness is a continuous effort that must be treated as such.
Some notable examples of kindness towards people with disabilities include a recent incident in which a girl with autism experienced sensory overload while shoe shopping at a Clarks in Bicester, England. Jacob Tayler, an 18-year old store clerk with prior experience working with people with disabilities, immediately came forward to talk to her and comfort her so that her experience wasn’t as overwhelming. The store has since honored Tayler for his handling of the situation.
In addition, Anderson, South Carolina, is home to James Robert Kennedy, better known by his nickname, “Radio.” Born with an intellectual disability, Kennedy befriended the football coach, Harold Jones, at Anderson’s T.L. Hanna High School as a young man in 1964. Ever since, Kennedy, who is now 72 years old, has been an eleventh grader there and the most celebrated member of the Yellow Jackets, the school’s football team, despite never playing a game. His story was depicted in the 2003 major motion picture, “Radio,” where Cuba Gooding, Jr. played him.
An alumnus of AABR’s New York Child Learning Institute has also demonstrated the powerful ways that kindness can impact the well-being of people with disabilities. Donald Simon recently went viral after his mother posted a video of him dancing, smiling, and raising his arms to Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi,” at the encouragement of barista Bryan Lara at a Staten Island Dunkin’ Donuts.
Despite the continuing prevalence of negative stigma and stereotypes associated with people with disabilities, it is quite apparent that there is no good reason to treat them with cruelty. In fact, treating them with kindness may even benefit them more than when those without disabilities experience it.
Michael Rock is a New York City-based reporter and self-advocate with autism. A graduate of Brandeis University, his work has appeared in Kings County Politics, Chelsea Now, Our Town, Queens County Politics, and WhoWhatWhy.