By Gary Wagner, President & CEO

When terms like “special needs” or “developmentally disabled” are used to describe someone, they create certain perceptions regarding the individual. It’s human nature to make assumptions about that person, and too often that label becomes the measure of them. The judgments that follow may be harsh or indifferent, which are devastating. It can all happen in a millisecond. And it creates a divide between persons with disabilities and those who are considered neurotypical or normal.

What then, is the measure of a person? May I propose a new paradigm in which disability does not define the individual? In fact, personal traits provide a more meaningful way to establish accurate perceptions of individuals with special needs.

Character: Everyone is born with the innate ability to choose who they will become! Honesty and integrity versus dishonesty and unreliability is a choice. An individual may choose perseverance or surrender to defeat. Kindness and respect versus meanness and disrespect are yet another choice. Character develops with nurture, teaching and mentoring as we grow from infancy to adulthood.

Our Ranchers (residents) are encouraged to work on character. One of our Caregivers coined the term “positive peer pressure” to describe how the Ranchers help one another develop the right approach as a member of the community. Nearly everyone wants to be seen as being capable and lovable, as having a friend or many friends, and as belonging to a group of like-minded individuals, something greater than themselves. At Rainbow Acres, every Rancher has the opportunity to explore and discover who they are and what they value. Visitors to the Ranch find that courtesy and respect abound.

For example, Greg is active on the Ranch and also belongs to several organizations outside of Rainbow Acres. Tae Kwon Do encourages and supports his competitive spirit; even during the COVID-19 pandemic, he is motivated to stay physically fit and disciplined as he works toward earning his brown belt. Belonging to a faith community is important to Greg also. Being employed and earning an income is yet another part of his desire to belong. Just about everyone wants to discover their purpose in life. A person’s words, actions, and behaviors are expressions of that desire.

Purpose: The power of purpose is unimaginable! The vast majority of the Ranchers discover a purpose for their life at Rainbow Acres. One morning, Brandi stopped me to ask that I intervene in her family’s decision to move to the Midwest and withdraw her from Rainbow Acres. She was clear in her thinking, saying: “This is my home now. I have friends! I have a job helping the chef by making salads in the kitchen! No one can make better salads than I do!” She had found a purpose!

Several Ranchers have discovered their capabilities when weaving on a loom in our Weaving Studio. Brent came to enjoy weaving so much he committed to weaving rugs until he reached retirement age. Jack rediscovered weaving after a 27-year hiatus from the craft. He resumed weaving at age 59 and continues weaving every day at age 82. Weaving provides them with a purpose in life!

On Daniel’s admissions application, his parents commented that Daniel had experienced difficulties in the workplace. That changed at Rainbow Acres. Daniel’s abilities and interests prompted the staff to assign him to work at the Barn, helping with the horses, donkeys and goats. This resulted in real joy. Soon he began to take responsibility for caregiving tasks. As he grew, he advanced to the position of Barn Manager and is celebrating two years in that role. While on his Christmas break with family, he called the Ranch to remind Lisa, the employee who supervised him, that it was time to administer a specific treatment for the animals. Daniel learned he has a purpose in life!

Achievement: This is the feat of overcoming barriers to accomplish one’s goals. It is often thought of in the context of education, securing a job, and being successful. However, achievement may not represent such lofty goals. Professional trainer Zig Ziglar taught his sales force to break the cost of the product down to the lowest price. Just as your goals and mine are not the same, we are on a fool’s errand when we impose neurotypical goals on anyone with different abilities and interests.

Brent loves sports! He wasn’t successful in high school sports. At Rainbow Acres, Brent found success in Special Olympics. He is very competitive. At the sports venue, he joins wholeheartedly in the Special Olympics pledge. In 24 years of competition, Brent has won hundreds of Gold, Silver and Bronze medals. He also has earned opportunities to represent Arizona in two national Special Olympics games. At the Arizona Special Olympics, Brent has received the “Most Inspirational Athlete” award on two occasions. After receiving that award, Brent said, “If only my class at Bloomington High School could see me now!” It took discipline, practice and perseverance to overcome barriers, and courage for Brent to achieve his goals. Fellow athletes and Rainbow coaches gave him support and encouragement. That made all the difference. Brent is a person of achievement!

Well-Being: This is the profound sense that all is well within oneself. “Comfortable in one’s skin” is another way to visualize well-being. It is all about accepting one’s strengths and weaknesses. Knowing it is okay to be the person I am. Experiencing acceptance of others, belonging in the family, and participating in life are indicators of a Rancher’s sense of well-being.

Well-being is also about health, thriving in areas of interest, and being in an environment that is safe. The penultimate expression of well-being is for a Rancher to say, “Rainbow Acres is my home.” It is a bittersweet moment for parents, guardians, and families to hear their loved one say that, but it also provides them with the satisfaction of knowing their loved one is in the place that’s right for them personally (which can also provide parents and guardians with a sense of well-being).

These are the measures of an individual. Everyone has the opportunity to fulfill these measures according to their unique ability! We especially encourage that development at Rainbow Acres!