by Anna Luce, Mishkan Shalom

TAP has been an incredibly enriching experience so far. It has changed how I view people with disabilities immensely, and in turn, has changed how I view people and situations as a whole. As a teenager, I am not predisposed to incredible levels of empathy, it’s something most people develop when they’re older. However, working with people who are different from me has helped me harness a great deal of empathy. Through training and experience, I’ve found that disabilities don’t make people any less whole, just different. Extending myself to those who are different, and viewing them as equal has changed me more than I could’ve expected. Working with people who are different from me isn’t my charity perogative, it’s become a something that I do for me just as much as the kid that I work with. When I get to help someone, it brings me out of a world of trying to be superior to others, and into the reality that that doesn’t actually matter. The compassion to help others is what really matters to me, and TAP has helped me discover that.

Every weekend I get to work with a child who has autism. It takes a great deal of patience because he doesn’t fit in in a conventional classroom setting, so we have to come up with alternatives. We’ve found out that he loves to set up snacks and help out whenever he can. On the surface, he has trouble expressing those sentiments because it’s difficult for him to cooperate in most settings. Being able to find something that really exposes how amazing he is brings me so much joy. I’ve known the child for a couple of years, and he’s grown so much within the community. He’s now more confident in making friends, and seeing him succeed in an area that’s really difficult for him makes me really proud. For some people, it takes more support to find what makes them shine, and it’s always worth giving unconditional support to find it. No one should give up on anyone due differences that pose challenges, because if they were in that position, they wouldn’t want anyone to give up on them.

This program has also given me more awareness in how communities support people with various differences and disabilities. Fair doesn’t always mean equal is something that I’ve learned through my experience as well. Everyone has different needs that need to be met. I’ve realized that my own school doesn’t do a particularly good job with disability awareness and people with disabilities are just tolerated as opposed to celebrated. The world would be really boring if everyone is the same, and just because people have different needs due to their differences, it doesn’t make them any less valuable to the community. Now I feel that I’d like to advocate for more acceptance of people with disabilities in various communities that I become part of. It not only helps the person with differences feel supported, but it also enriches the community as a whole.