Sawubona is the traditional Zulu greeting. It translates as “I see you.”
It conveys much more than our “hello,” it is an expression that the greeter acknowledges your humanity and dignity; and it is, of course, a sign of respect.
The person thus greeted replies by saying Ngikhona, “I am here.”
There is clearly something very powerful and meaningful in this simple exchange.
About a decade ago Best Buddies, a friendship program for people with intellectual disabilities founded and chaired by Anthony Shriver, adopted “I See You,” as their semi-official slogan, and the reason why is understandable.
Throughout most of history, people with intellectual disabilities have been nearly invisible, feared for their differences, often warehoused away for life in institutions notorious for their brutality and indifference.
Much has changed in the past century, though. The old “insane asylum” is a thing of the past, and the development of special education has not only demonstrated that the intellectually disabled can learn and thrive, it has also played a major role in changing society’s view of this population, replacing fear and misunderstanding with greater acceptance and, sometimes, even admiration.
So, as people with intellectual disabilities have become more apparent in our society, we can all greet this development with an expression of “I See You.”
Of course, there is still much work to be done. While there is no question that special education and programs such as Best Buddies represent an important revolution, challenges remain, especially as the intellectually disabled reach adulthood.
Like anyone else, the intellectually disabled aspire to have a good job, their own place to live in and, of course, a meaningful romantic relationship.
“I See You” is a lifestyle Reality TV series that will focus on a group of five or so adults who are intellectually disabled and are either completely on their own and self-sufficient or are aspiring to become so.
The label of intellectually disabled is quite vague and encompasses a huge range abilities and disabilities.
On the one hand, there are very high-functioning people on the autism spectrum who can mostly live unnoticed except for a few quirks in their behavior.
There are also high functioning people with Down Syndrome who cope wonderfully with the everyday challenges of life. For them, though, their physical appearance is sometimes perceived with fear and misunderstanding by the society at large, and thus adds an additional level of challenge.
“I See You,” will focus on a representative group of high- and mid-functioning adults, all living on their own, all contributing to society.
There will, of course, be ups and downs and the stress and struggle of dealing with the challenges will be an important component of the series.
There are no pre-determined outcomes, but clearly, we will always look for the best and advocate for compassion, understanding and solidarity.
In the end, perhaps, one of the main conclusions of “I See You” will be that the society as large needs to work at least as much as the intellectually disabled to learn and appreciate how much of a true contribution this highly misunderstood minority can make to the world.
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