Meet Joe

Meet Joe. Living with the label of disability, his social network looks significantly different than most.

Joe has his family. Just like most of us, at the end of the day, there’s never enough family.

Teachers, barbers, dentists, accountants, make up part of the people paid to be in Joe’s life, but the majority are direct support staff, who he spends a lot of time with. He can rely on them for services, but they are often in his life temporarily,

But out of everyone in Joe’s life, close friends and acquaintances, people he runs into occasionally like neighbors or the clerk at his local movie store, are the smallest number by far.

Finding friends is an unpredictable road that can be tricky for anybody. It takes the perfect combination of common interests, shared places, mutual respect, and a touch of serendipity. Put all the pieces together, and sometimes there’s a spark, one that none of us can predict.

From the time he was first labeled with a disability, Joe’s life has been planned out for him. It often led to him being placed in separate programs, away from everyday life. While this was planned by a well-meaning society, it has meant that Joe has to work a little harder to build his social than others.

Now Joe and his family are on the road to turning this picture around by drawing on Joe’s passion for history to build natural relationships. Joe and his mom spend time in conversation with people, visiting with people who love history too, hoping to make connections over time that will lead to doing stuff together, or collaborating on a community project, so that maybe they will find that spark of serendipity that can lead to more people in Joe’s life.

Based on Jack Pealer’s 1990 study on 51 people with disabilities’ social network, and the similar reality that many people with disabilities still face today. Art and narrative by Brandon Black, Jennifer Bradley, and Jon Gray.

katie bachmeyer