Let’s celebrate the ‘spirit’ that disables limitations

WE HAVE just observed the International Day of People with Disability on 3 December in an effort to "break barriers and open doors: to realise an inclusive society for all", as the UN brief puts it.

I've recently become aware that "doors are opening" at Aware Industries in Albury-Wodonga.

Aware's best practice tools, procedures and support mechanisms enable people with disability to work productively and effectively.

Similar to Endeavour Foundation services in Queensland and western Sydney, their strong workforce manufacture and distribute timber products and offer mail/dispatch services, as well as food, light engineering and packaging services for the community.

My niece really likes working on the marketing team there.

She says that the love and support for her from the workers there is palpable.

One of them is her brother, who feels empowered by the opportunities available to experience increased physical, social and economic inclusion since he started working there recently.

Coming from an amazingly supportive family who have ensured opportunities for him to work in a small way in their businesses over the past 30 years, a change in family circumstances and the introduction to the Aware ethos mean that he is now for the first time talking about having his own flat which he hopes to share with a workmate.

This is just one of the stories that have been facilitated by people like Ann Proctor, recipient of the 2013 National Disability Awards - Lesley Hall Award for Lifetime Achievement in Disability.

She has fought for 40 years for the rights of people with disability to be able to live within their community and attend mainstream schools in the ACT.

And she has worked hard to assist families of people with disability to understand and not be fearful of these lifestyle changes.

On the plus side for these families, surprising research shows unexpected health benefits for those who lend a helping hand to act as caregivers for a disabled relative.

Rather than increased stress and illness, caregivers may live longer than those who don't bear such responsibilities.

There are still a range of significant issues that people with disabilities often face, which include anxiety, depression, social dysfunction and general health maintenance.

However, Gaelle Mellis, one of Australia's most highly regarded dance and theatre designers, and many of the recently compensated victims from use of the drug Thalidomide, are inspiring examples of productive lives lived with passion, dignity and confidence, despite apparent limitations.

It's clear that social, physical and economic barriers are starting to fall for many, in circumstances that were once thought possible. Could this be attributable to something in addition to their courage and hard work?

There is increasing evidence to suggest that it is a person's inner world of values, beliefs and inspiration that helps determine the process of coping.

Research cited in the Journal of American Science this year explains that this inner world refers to awareness of existence as a force beyond material life.

The study found that this understanding has a significant positive influence on mental and physical health, life satisfaction and livelihood for us all, including those with disabilities.

In fact the research concludes with "99% level of confidence that the higher the spiritual intelligence, the lower the social dysfunction, and vice versa....the higher the spiritual intelligence, the lower the depression and anxiety… Mental health increases as spirituality improves."

The evidence is so compelling that one university has established a Centre for Research into spirituality, health and disability.

Spiritual intelligence recognises that kindness and compassion are at the core of our successful functioning as human beings and ensures that they motivate our actions and reactions.

It's the reason we may choose not to disable ourselves and others by going overboard with sledging in sport, by being coerced into mind-numbing gossip or caving into road rage.

Although spiritual intelligence is innate, it needs developing.

More and more people choose to spend time each day in quiet meditation and contemplation of inspiring ancient texts and modern day revelations like Christian Science to brighten their perspective.

On a personal level, I've been able to get rid of a disabling anxiety about speaking in public through such discoveries about myself in just this way.

Inspiring examples of social and economic progress from some of our friends with disabilities can be a nudge to tackle our own mental bad habits that could well be hindering our progress and wellbeing.

As the Christmas spirit impels you to donate gifts or cash to one of the crucial community support organisations or appeals in the lead-up to the big day, it may be worth considering how the quality of our thinking can either disable us or propel us into increased competency, health and wellbeing.

What an enabling Christmas and New Year it could be!

Kay Stroud writes about the connection between our thoughts and our health, and the role that spirituality can play. She blogs at www.qldhealthblog.com

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