We have all heard of racism, or sexism, but for some of us the idea of “ableism” is new. Ableism is discrimination against people with disabilities through a society that favors people with able bodies. This is not only evident in facilities lacking things like restrooms and ramps for people with disabilities, but also in lives in societal attitudes where people with disabilities are not valued as whole individuals or seen as inferior. This can be especially true for people with developmental or cognitive disabilities. The world caters to able-bodied people, and it takes awareness of this unfair reality to create a world that is more inclusive of people with disabilities.
At NMTS, we are aware of ableism and the fact that many music and dance programs in Reno (and elsewhere) are not inclusive of people of all abilities. Our services fill a needed gap in the community, providing opportunities for people of all abilities to express themselves through music and dance, and to be included. No matter what your ability, our doors are open to you, and we will use every resource possible to meet your needs.
Through music therapy, we help individuals reach personal goals that will improve their lives. We want every individual to have opportunities to reach their full potential so that they may enjoy and experience life fully. We do NOT however, believe that a person’s value in the world is measured by their ability. As humans, we represent a diverse spectrum of ability. We want to welcome that diversity and acknowledge the potential in every individual to grow more fully into who they are. We believe that people should be able to express themselves and be accepted and included for who they are, regardless of what they can or cannot do.
The foundation of music therapy is establishing a therapeutic relationship – a relationship where a person is seen as their whole self. This is a relationship where people get to express themselves, have fun, be curious, dance, sing, try new things, play new instruments, and improve their lives. We do not believe that people with disabilities need to change or “get better” because they were broken to begin with. What we do believe is that every person has potential for growth and expansion – that a large part of the human experience is personal growth – which is unique to each of us. Creating an environment where people can be seen, heard, challenged and related to in a positive way is the foundation of therapy; only from this place of meeting a person where they are, can we move forward together.
Imagine living in a world where people are constantly seeing you as your deficits – for what you can’t do. How meaningful would it be to step into a room where you are acknowledged for what you can do, and you get to do fun things with other people and make friends? We are all human. We all have the same need for love, connection, joy, self-expression, fun, adventure, music, and dance. The problem is that not everyone has equal access to these experiences and at NMTS we are hoping to change that.
I still have a lot to learn about ableism, privilege, and how to better use my privilege to help create a more inclusive society, but the more time I spend working at NMTS and getting to build relationships with participants, the less I think about it, and the more it happens. I stop seeing people as their disability, and I see them for the unique vibrant people they are. And that is a gift to me, to get to know and connect with so many people different than myself in some ways, and the same in others. My community expands. I hope to use my voice, my privilege, and my profession, to create safe, inviting spaces for people with disabilities to be themselves, here at NMTS, and in the greater Reno community.
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