My first day at this year’s Jasper County Fair, I met Sugar the dog. With a soft, cotton candy-white fur and redness around her eyes, Sugar is blind and partially deaf. But to see the way she’s approached by her 11-year-old owner/trainer, Carlee Zahurones of Baxter, you’d never know Sugar has a disability.
Despite her handicap, Sugar still competes in the 4-H dog show. During her competition, Sugar could not hear Zahurones’ calls or see her signals and cues, but the 11-year-old adapted. She uses light touches and tugs on the dog’s collar to communicate commands.
In the stands, family friends of Zahurones told me Sugar has come a long way in the past year. Sugar’s fans in the stands said the dog would not take commands during the 2013 fair 4-H show.
The patience and kind attitude exhibited by this Baxter youth toward Sugar is the same demeanor we should have in every day life. If there are struggles, look at the challenge from a different perspective.
Sugar has worth, ability and talents, and Zahurones saw that and is allowing the pup’s attributes to shine through. These are traits we all have and can find in one another. Every person, no matter their challenges, has the ability to find purpose and value in life.
According to U.S. census data compiled by Cornell University in 2012, just under 19 million Americans classify themselves as members of the disabled community, but only 33.5 percent of these Americans have found jobs.
The opportunities are out there. Whether it be through an employment/day-hab service, job coach or guardian-assisted search, folks in this community can contribute and want to contribute. Exercising one’s talents and abilities gives a sense of belonging and self worth, but sometimes it takes someone special, a motivator, to help someone reach their full potential.
After graduating college, I served people with autism, MR and physical disabilities for two years. In a direct care setting, I had the time and opportunity to get to know the people I served and learn ways to communicate. These paths of communication led to an understanding to help people with disabilities achieve their goals. Pictures, sign language and unconventional verbal cues can be used to better understand a person’s needs to ultimately assist them in bringing home that first paycheck, swimming out into the ocean or establishing a long-lasting relationship with a friend.
It’s about perspective, it’s about faith, and a different way of communicating.