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Inclusion. The blog for the Center for Disability Studies.

Sawa bona

By Cory Nourie

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The other day I came upon a traffic light with no power, just as drivers of three other cars approached that same intersection. I did what everyone else did.  I stopped where the dark traffic light was, made eye contact to acknowledge the other drivers, then took my turn passing, safely, through the intersection. This acknowledge-the-other-driver dance made me think about the power of acknowledgment.

I’m that person who walks by you and says “hello” every single time.  I’m always astounded to be alone with another human being in a relatively confined area such as a hallway, sidewalk, or running track (who am I kidding? You won’t find me on a track!) and to have that person not make eye contact, smile, nod or do anything to acknowledge my presence.  My shock isn’t because how dare they not acknowledge ME, but more so because we are social beings.  We are interdependent. We are all in this world together.  We need each other.  I greet everyone, because everyone deserves to be acknowledged as a living, breathing human being, who has feelings, thoughts, and a soul.  I’m not necessarily getting into a deep conversation with you when I say hi, but I want to greet you and acknowledge you and honor you as a person.

Oftentimes individuals with disabilities are not acknowledged socially, and therefore are hidden from the world around them.  One of the best pieces of advice I can give to a person with a disability or their family/caregiver/loved one is to explore all types of communication options.  Even if you were assessed several years ago and told you were not a candidate for whatever reason, try again.  The power of functional communication  is enormous and I want everyone who I acknowledge to be able to acknowledge me back.  For some individuals who have never used words to communicate, I want there to be a tool that they can utilize that helps them say “hello” or “how are you” or “I think you’re beautiful” spontaneously to the person on the street.  One never knows who you will pass and the impact he/she may have on your life.

The Natal tribe in South Africa doesn’t waste their time on “hello” or “hi” when greeting another person.  They instead say, “Sawa bona,” which means “I see you.”  Until they tell someone “Sawa bona” that person doesn’t exist in their eyes. The person then replies, “Sikhona,” or “I am here.”  Those two phrases connect those people together.  My goal is for everyone, with all of their gifts and strengths and labels, to be seen at all times.  We must find ways to guarantee individuals with disabilities are seen and acknowledged as human beings, citizens, neighbors, friends, and family.  Sawa bona.

About the Author

Cory Nourie is the Patient Transition Social Work Coordinator at the Nemours Alfred I duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Del. where her mantra — “Is it is helpful or positive?” – guides her energy and efforts.

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Comments

  • Cory-
    Great blog post!
    I agree that acknowledging the presence of other people is so important! I walk daily in a park and some people smile or nod and some people say “hi” or “nice day!” Others just walk right by and of course, we have to allow that many people have a lot on their mind. A simple “hi” is communication, is making a personal connection and shows respect. It can be verbal or non-verbal. Sometimes I see when people find out someone is deaf or hard of hearing they don’t acknowledge or engage them in conversation again & don’t know what to do. Then, if there is an interpreter present, they look at the interpreter rather than the deaf person. I notice that when I travel & see a deaf person signing & just sign a simple “hi” or “how are you”, I get a big smile! Same thing in other cultures. For example, I was just in FL and saw a Phillipino and said “Mabuhay” or “hi” in Tagalog and immediately they wanted to chat,like we were long lost friends!! So being able to connect across disabilities and/or cultures is critical in this global environment where there is much conflict and lack of listening to one another. A need for meeting, communicating with & understanding people with disabilities is key to improving employment and inclusion of people with disabilities. Knowing how to acknowledge people who are deaf, hard of hearing, people with poor speech or no speech (or any disability) is not an option, but should be imbedded in our advocacy & professional trainings. So maybe we can add to “Sawa Bona”, a “Sawa Hona” for deaf and hard of hearing people, meaning “I hear you”!

  • A lovely post, Cory. Your sensibility on the subject is one I hope more and more people will come to share. Eager to see which issues you take on next.

    • Thank you, Impressed. I, too, am eager to see what I write next! 🙂

    • The other day some of my fellow residents took a trip to South Philadelphia to do a taste test Of Pat’s And Gino’s. Two different couples reacted differently to us. One watched us and then as they left proceeded to go to our staff and volunteer and tell them they were doing a great job; however, they did not speak to any of us in wheelchairs. The other couple was very friendly and greeted each one of us. My thought is the first couple needed to be educated that it was okay to talk to us, and the second couple got it. Your blog Makes the point we want to be recognized as people and not someone with a disability.

      • I would like to think it’s more of an issue generationally, with the children today growing up with inclusive classrooms and such; and older adults having grown up with segregation etc. Kids are usually accepting, albeit curious, and most times just do whatever will make them have the most fun, with whoever is also looking for fun. It’s as they get older and start to place value on the other person’s “worth” to them that the ignorance becomes rampant. In your example, David, the first couple only “saw” the staff person and volunteer. It’s sad. It’s exactly why Sawa Bona rings true to me.

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