We all have something unique to offer no matter what package we come in. This is the concept behind the Abilities United Community Connections series. Created and produced by long time Media Center volunteer Andrea Throndson, the show highlights achievements made by local men and women with physical and mental disabilities. Throndson says, “I realized there was no programming about adults with disabilities. I wanted to showcase to the community the great things these people are accomplishing.” As part of the nonprofit Abilities United, Community Connections is a program that helps the disabled population be a part of their local community by giving them an opportunity to commit to social and volunteer activities. With 35 local organization partners, activities include park cleanups, book sorting at libraries, and helping to produce the Media Center’s Community Connections series.
First launched in 2007, the show was birthed out of a grant from the Silicon Valley Foundation. Since then, there have been approximately 15 episodes interviewing people like Temple Grandin and former State Senator Joe Simitian. The most recent show partnered with the Bridge School and addresses the topic of Alternative Communication. Interviewing two guests that use augmentative communication devices, the show divulges the hardships her guests faced in the past lacking proper communication. But also reveals how these devices become a portal to their thoughts and lead to great accomplishments.
It is episodes like this one that help break the stereotypes of people with disabilities. “I regularly face misconceptions about people with disabilities,” says Throndson. It is through education that Throndson feels those negative opinions change. Educating people about developmental disabilities teaches people that the disabled are reliable, respectable and hardworking individuals who are more than just their disabilities. Education shows the strengths of the disabled and shows people that inclusion is important. “We all have our struggles and dark places. We have all been pushed aside at some point in our lives,” says Throndson.
Being on the show allows her guests with disabilities to openly talk about those dark places, but also embrace their stories of perseverance. Throndson says her guests get very excited to be on the show because they get to be stars. “The last guest Clay got so excited that we saw the apparent joy on his face. Being on the show was wonderful recognition for him,” says Throndson. The show positively affects both the guests, and Throndson as well.
“It has given me a joy of life. I know that sounds corny but it’s true. There is brilliance in seeing a person with disabilities. For often having a disability can seem like a drawback but then so many gifts and joy can come from their struggles. Hearing and seeing these stories of perseverance is what has kept me doing this show for 10 years,” concluded Throndson.
Written by Katie Rentzke