By Barb Arland-Fye
Just days ahead of Labor Day, my son Patrick began training for his new job at a company he always hoped to work for some day. Coincidentally, his older brother Colin looks forward (potentially) to starting a job this week doing janitorial work. Colin most recently worked in a sheltered workshop, but years have passed since he worked in the community.
As we raised our sons, my husband Steve and I prayed that they would become productive members of society, engaged in fulfilling employment that contributes to the wellbeing of society and themselves. My prayers for Patrick’s place in the general economy differ from my prayers for his older brother because of Colin’s special needs.
In Catholic teaching, a person’s value is not dependent on their productivity, but on their existence as a human being. I have tried to keep that teaching in mind even while praying for Colin to be successful in paid employment in the community at large. My expectations take into account the challenges he must contend with as a person with a developmental disability. I pray that God will help us to figure out the practical details.
In his encyclical “Laborem Exercens” (on Human Work, 1981), St. John Paul II spoke about the role of work for people with disabilities:
Individuals with disabilities “are fully human subjects with corresponding innate, sacred and inviolable rights, and, in spite of the limitations and sufferings affecting their bodies and faculties, they point up more clearly the dignity and greatness of man. Since disabled people are subjects with all their rights, they should be helped to participate in the life of society in all its aspects and at all the levels accessible to their capacities.”
“… The various bodies involved in the world of labour, both the direct and the indirect employer, should therefore by means of effective and appropriate measures foster the right of disabled people to professional training and work, so that they can be given a productive activity suited to them. … [D]isabled people may be offered work according to their capabilities, for this is demanded by their dignity as persons and as subjects of work. Each community will be able to set up suitable structures for finding or creating jobs for such people both in the usual public or private enterprises, by offering them ordinary or suitably adapted jobs, and in what are called ‘protected’ enterprises and surroundings” (No. 22).
Last weekend, Colin handed me a greeting card that shows colorful daisies in flowerpots. Inside the card, Colin wrote a note about what he was looking forward to in the upcoming days (Mass with the family, a picnic at church and watching Svengoolie on METV, among other things). His handwriting is tough to decipher, so I asked him to read the card to me. His concluding sentence: “I’m going to have an interview (for a job) on Monday. I might start Tuesday. I love you.”
I remember another time when Colin worked in the community and his delight each time he received a paycheck. Unfortunately, the first two businesses he worked for closed unexpectedly, which devastated him. He had to leave his third job because the employer provided a fluctuating work schedule, which spelled disaster for a young man with autism who depends on consistency and routine.
Prayers continue, for both Colin and Patrick, with an understanding that God doesn’t dispense answers according to my needs and desires. But like St. Monica, I am persistent. What parent doesn’t pray for his or her children to thrive, to reach their full potential and to help make the world a better place?
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)