Tim Harris, the professional public speaker, and former restaurant owner who famously counted over 75,000 hugs has the key to true friendship. Anyone lucky enough to know him can see this. And Tim, the magnetic guy with the “Oh yeah!” attitude who happens to have Down syndrome, has given me permission to share that with the world.
Are you ready? The key is to treat every friend, and every family member, as if they are your favorite friend, or your favorite family member. Please understand this is not calculated, or disingenuous is any way. Tim really feels this. Tim truly shows this in each relationship he has. He dedicates videos, songs, and very kind words to so many people on a regular basis. His photos, videos, and daily life are all full of numerous hugs, smiles, laughter, jokes, and the making of new memories. Tim Harris makes sure the large circle of love and support around him knows he loves them. 100%. Every single day.
This has been amazing for me to watch. And it has been a powerful lesson. Tim’s abundance of love, and support for his friends, puts my friendships to shame. I can do better—and because of Tim I will.
But the bigger issue is more complex. People with significant disabilities usually do not have large circles of friendship and unpaid support. Notice I specifically said ‘unpaid support’. In fact, a typical adult without a disability has an average of 150 people in their social network. A typical adult with a significant disability has about 15 people in their social network. They have approximately 10% of the friendships someone without a disability has.
Friends can be anyone with or without a disability who is not being paid to be in your network.
Why is there such a disparity? Again, I am no expert. I will just share some common knowledge. Many people with significant disabilities have communication delays. They may have speech that is harder to express and / or understand. They may have more difficulty expressing their thoughts. They may need the use of sign language and / or communication devices. They may have a disability that can be seen, either in their features or their mannerisms.
There is a continuum of acceptance for people with disabilities into society. First there is physical integration. Think of the days when most people with disabilities lived and died in institutions. Now most, sadly not all, are integrated physically into their communities.
Second there is functional inclusion. The ADA has made it possible for many people with disabilities to receive the accommodations they need to be successful in society.
Last but not least there is social inclusion. This is the toughest to achieve because it cannot be forced or dictated. It needs to happen organically and naturally with internal supports.
Every step I just mentioned has taken, and is taking, much too long to achieve. The civil rights struggle for people with disabilities is largely unknown, often forgotten, and the last on almost everyone’s burners. Politicians, judges, educators and administrators, many employers, and even some non-profits whose mission is to support and represent people with disabilities often marginalize people with disabilities. Often, without intent.
Add to this the sad fact that the disability community is fractured and cannot agree itself on how best to advance. People still advocate for institutions and sheltered workshops today. People still advocate for not only separate classes, but often separate schools. And some kind hearted people are promoting separate services at some places of worship.
I do not have the magic answer for all of this. I am simply stating that all of this contributes to the fact that too many people with significant disabilities are starved for real friendships.
So what can we do? A) we can work at local, state, and national levels to make sure people do not forget the civil right struggles people with disabilities face every day.
And B) we can learn from Tim. ALL of us can. It may be harder for someone with a disability, who is also shy. But as Tim’s mom Jeannie says, they can work on building one to one friendships. Relationships take time and effort—they are not handed to anyone. We must teach our kids to work at this skill, and help them when needed. My daughter, who has Down syndrome, is working hard to communicate more with her friends and foster those relationships. And as I said earlier, I am taking a cue from my friend Tim and valuing each friend more. I also want to expand my friendship base. Why not?
Tim Harris sure knows how to live.
Thank you for caring.
From my heart,
- The featured photo with this blog is Tim Harris and I in 2013, the first time we met.
Episode 13 is the last of Born Fabulous Podcast’s first season. I thank you for taking the time to read this blog, and for listening. If you have not listened yet, there is no clock watching you. Do it at your convenience. Binge the Riggios, Sandra McElwee, and /or Jeannie Harris’s episodes. You will hear golden nuggets mixed with profound stories, and also be entertained. You can find us on Apple Podcasts, anywhere podcasts are heard, or www.bornfabulouspodcast.com
I am so grateful to Steve and Laura Riggio, Sandra and Sean McElwee, and Jeannie and Tim Harris for sharing their lives and stories with us. They each were generous with their time and wisdom, and I consider each one a friend. Tim Harris style!
There will be a season 2 of Born Fabulous Podcast. I have a theme, and it is exciting. That is all I will say for now, so please stay tuned.
If you have not already, I invite you to join my email list, like us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest to stay in touch. I will be writing more blogs between now and season 2.
One last plug, if you have listened to Born Fabulous Podcast, please consider writing a review on Apple Podcasts. That helps the podcast, and others when looking for it.