Mainstream Living

Tip of the Month - Empowerment

Empowerment is one of Mainstream Living’s core values, and although it is one simple word, there is a lot of subtlety that goes into helping people feel empowered.  As a staff member, there are several strategies you can employ to help empower members in achieving goals or reaching milestones.  

1. Listen
Listening is always the first step toward empowering others, because it is a way for us to identify the needs and desires of an individual. Staff members can easily slip into the mentality of knowing what is best in the lives of members.  However, it is not our job to decide what’s best for people, but to help them discover that for themselves.  

2. Pay attention to the things people think they can’t do.
A conversation about dreams and goals with a person we serve can often start with someone talking about how they want something for themselves, but could never achieve it.  This is due in large part to the social forces that push people with disabilities to think that they can’t or shouldn’t.  The term “disability” itself seems to indicate this.
Oftentimes, when people lack confidence in their abilities, they are revealing their true passions and desires for life.  Pay special attention to these, because they are often the things that ultimately bring members the most fulfillment.

3. Expand somebody’s limited expectations of themselves.
People with disabilities frequently get messages from society that they should limit themselves, and that significant achievements are not within their reach.  Some of those served by Mainstream dream big, wanting to be astronauts or millionaires, but most go in the opposite direction of believing in their full potential.  Empowerment can begin with challenging an individual’s closely held beliefs about their own limits.  If someone says they can’t, ask why, and express belief that they can.  Challenge them to take first steps toward goals or dreams they thought were impossible.  They may not make it all the way there, but event small accomplishments can build confidence and leave one in a better position than they were before.  

4. Focus on small sucesses
If you are helping a person work towards specific goals, it can be easy for them to become frustrated, throw up their hands, and quit.  As staff, we can be proactive by framing goals as a series of several small successes, rather than one huge success.  If someone wants to lose weight, each choice to eat healthy foods or exercise can be framed as a small success.  Even though it takes time to achieve big goals, these celebrations of smaller goals can keep people motivated.

5. Reevaluate when necessary
There are times when people run into roadblocks when working toward their dreams.  This is okay, and it is okay to help someone recognize their own limitations.  Knowing your limits can be as empowering as moving beyond what you thought your limits were.  It is okay to reassess goals and dreams as long as you have given members every opportunity they need to learn where those limits are.   For most people, their limits of achievement are far beyond what they thought they were.  Help them find those limits, and you will help them live in a space that is more fulfilling and life affirming.


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