Monday, September 25, 2017

Space Invaders

A couple of weekends ago, I went for a run along the Boulder Creek path. It is a frequent and favorite route of mine, but this particular Saturday I forgot about one thing before I set out – it was the day of a home game for the University of Colorado Buffaloes football team.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Boulder Creek path, it runs right along the CU campus, and on game days, the path is often filled with alumni and fans walking to Folsom stadium to cheer on the home team. This isn’t a big problem, I just slow down and the fans are always polite about letting me pass.

But I noticed something in particular on this ride about space and how some people seem to be more willing to take up more space than others.

I’m not talking about someone’s actual size. Rather, I’m discussing in a figurative sense how some people seem to be more comfortable than others with taking up more space than they might need. On this particular day, I probably saw a dozen couples walking to the game, and inevitably, one person would be on one side of the path, holding a chair facing toward the center of the path, and the other would be on the other side of the path, holding a chair facing toward the center of the path.

That combination meant that together they took up the entire width of the path. They weren’t doing it to be malicious, or because they were inherently selfish, they just had either a sense of entitlement to the entire path, didn’t like each other that much, or shared a lack of awareness of the needs of others using the path.

I see this type of space invasion in our field frequently. The person who takes up all the time in a meeting to make their point (you know them as the ones who use up all the air in the room), or the person who argues vociferously their point without consideration or cognizance of other points of view. All too often, the people who take up the most space end up being the ones who slow things down in the end. You can’t get past them on the path.

But do you know what population of individuals doesn’t tend to take more space then they need? People with intellectual and developmental disabilities (and yes, I’m generalizing here, but I feel pretty secure in making that generalization). Perhaps because folks with I/DD have likely spent a good portion of their lives marginalized by society, they don’t carry the same expectations or sense of entitlement that far too many of us do carry (including at times, I'm somewhat ashamed to admit, me).

None of this is to point fingers or to identify a “bad guy.” I just want to point out that perhaps we could all use an occasional experience of trading spaces. Maybe we could be a little more aware of how we take up space, and how those actions can, and do, inadvertently make it more difficult for someone else to be part of the same space.

If we truly want to create a world of opportunity for all abilities, we need to understand that a huge part of making that happen is by making space for others.

Then again, what do I know?

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