||Building a World of Inclusion for People with Health Conditions and Disabilities|
by David Radcliff, written for ABILITY Magazine.
For too many people with disabilities, options are limited before they are fully explored. Often such limitations stem not from any physical barriers but from psychological ones, barriers we impose upon ourselves, barriers occasionally reinforced by our well-meaning friends and loved ones, barriers often encapsulated in six simple words: “Let me do that for you”.
On a recent Friday, the ABILITY Build project chipped away at some of these barriers by setting people with disabilities to work at a construction site in Lynwood, California. I was fortunate enough to be a part of this project, alongside a crew made up of people both with and without physical disabilities, each motivated to achieve a common goal: the creation of a home.
This project, engineered by Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles, will provide homes for three low-income families. Patty Lee, Faith and Community Relations Manager for Habitat for Humanity, provided us with information about these families, one of which includes Cesar Martinez, a twelve-year-old with severe cerebral palsy and an intellectual disability who, for the first time, will have his own bedroom.
For the Martinezes, a family of five, this new residence marks not only an expansion of space but also of freedom. In their previous living situation, the family was not allowed to bring Cesar’s wheelchair into the home because their landlord was concerned about damaged floors.
The Martinez family, and their soon-to-be neighbors, the Briggs and Osborne families, were only a few of our motivating forces underneath the warm California sun that day. We were also driven by camaraderie, by resilience, and by pride in a hard day’s work. I had never been part of a collaborative construction project before and, as someone with cerebral palsy, had never expected to end an afternoon covered in drywall dust, arm a little sore from pounding nails. Nevertheless, I was surprised to find that this is an experience to which I would be eager to return, a door which I had previously imagined to be closed to skinny kids on crutches.
The truth is, I don’t know many people with disabilities in my own daily life. We don’t travel in packs and we don’t speak a special language, so my encounters with my wheelchair-using brethren are often coincidental, sometimes capped by a passing nod of acknowledgement and solidarity. On this construction site, however, I met a rock guitarist born without arms who used his feet to manipulate a power drill. I met an actor who, on a prosthetic leg, dashed from one job to the next. I met a woman who, though half of her body had been paralyzed in a car accident, rolled around the site as if she were born to be there.
As a part of the ABILITY Build project, I may not have learned much about construction (it’s fairly easy to figure out the relationship between hammer and nail), but I did learn something about myself, something which is impossible to articulate but is very deeply felt. Something akin to seeing with new eyes – and through those new eyes I recognized that even the assumptions and limitations I had imposed upon myself were unfounded.
I also helped build a house.