How do you measure success? Is it the ability to amass large sums of money? Is it the accumulation of possessions? Is it the acquisition of power? Is it being able to get what you want, when you want it?
By society’s standards, the outward trappings of success are what count. Your home, your car, your profession, even your appearance – all indicate the level of success you have been able to achieve. That is why for some people, success is a way of keeping score in their ongoing battle with the world. It is a way to favorably compare themselves to others. It’s used as a way to try to impress those they are competing with.
However, for people with developmental disabilities, their definition of success can be quite different. These individuals rarely have prestige or great personal power. Typically they do not have wealth or expensive possessions – so what seems like a small success to others can have great meaning for them.
The following are a collection of stark contrasts that illustrate the diverse ways that success can be interpreted by people who have disabilities and those who don’t.
*Success can be receiving a huge promotion, or it can be landing a minimum wage job after years of being told that your disability would not allow you to enter the job market.
*Success can be driving the luxury car of your dreams, or it can be learning how to safely use public transportation so that you have the freedom to go wherever you want.
*Success can be having the ability to afford extensive cosmetic surgery, or it can be enduring multiple orthopedic procedures that allow you to walk for the first time.
*Success can mean joining an exclusive country club that does not have a member with an intellectual challenge, or it can be having a developmental disability and enjoying inclusion within society because you have that right.
*Success can be purchasing $500.00 boots, or it can be learning how to tie your shoes.
*Success can be having the skill to be an articulate public speaker, or it can be having the courage to communicate with a speech disorder.
*Success can be impressing people with your net worth, or it can be impressing people with your self-worth.
*Success can be wearing the finest jewelry money can buy, or it can be facing your day while you wear a medical alert bracelet that could save your life.
*Success can be having an important title by your name, or it can be having people acknowledge you by your name instead of your diagnosis.
*Success can be a thirty-year-old with a Rolex, or it can be a thirty-year-old who, after years of effort, has now learned how to tell time.
*Success can be taking long expensive vacations to exotic locations, or it can be going for extended periods of time without having to be hospitalized for chronic life altering conditions.
*Success can be moving into your dream home in a gated community, or it can be moving into a group home so you are part of the community.
*Success can be something you spend your entire life chasing, or it can simply be living your life to the best of your ability, no matter what your challenges.
People with developmental disabilities often have a way of valuing the important things in life that others take for granted. These include being treated with dignity and respect. Having the opportunities to learn and to work. Being allowed to fail without being labeled a failure. Having people listen as they express their thoughts, ideas, and opinions. And exercising their right to live their lives fully, in a way that has meaning for them.
Perhaps the simplest definition of success is also the most important. A successful man or woman lives in a way that makes the world a better place. It doesn’t matter whether or not you have a disability. It makes no difference what your financial means happen to be. Your education level is not the determining factor, nor is your type of employment. What counts is that you accept others without judging them. That you are kind and considerate. That you are tolerant.
Because our time in this world is so brief, it is a shameful waste to spend our lives chasing every dollar, collecting more and more possessions or constantly angling for the next promotion.
Individuals with intellectual challenges provide a perfect example of how to live in a way that has true significance, without all the baggage that comes with trying to impress other people. Their search for inclusion is something we all have in common, therefore it can be appreciated and valued by everyone.
For a person with a developmental disability, success is being accepted as an equal member of society.