Focus on their abilities

Sometimes when you are driving along you are suddenly forced to take a detour because there is traffic or construction blocking your path. Recently, I experienced a different type of detour, one that took me on a different and unexpected journey.

I was treated to a performance of Hairspray put on by The Detour Company Theatre at the Scottsdale Center of the Arts. The show’s company consisted of adults with challenges, or as some would call them, disabilities. Their mission: provide quality and authentic arts education and performance opportunities for adults with developmental and other challenges, including deafness, blindness and autism, through the magic and miracle of theatre. Founded in 2000, they are a nonprofit organization offering quality performing arts opportunities in the metropolitan Phoenix, Ariz. area.

I observed a company of adults with a range of abilities whose joy at performing filled the theater. Being able to participate in a normal activity with other adults brought joy not only to their faces, but to their families and to the entire audience.

For a night, in actuality for three performances, they were on stage entertaining their friends, family and total strangers. The excitement the performers experienced was electric and the electricity was still in the air when the show was over and the actors were interacting with each other. For an evening they were the center of attention and we were the audience that gave them a standing ovation.

This show was one in a series of shows put on by this local nonprofit that receives support from the business community, the City of Scottsdale, private grants and individual donors. There is no admission charge, so people with disabilities can attend the performances. I observed two volunteers signing and someone over a closed circuit audio system describing the performance so the blind could enjoy it.

This is not the only organization in Scottsdale that looks solely at a person’s abilities and not his or her disabilities. Frye’s markets employ adults with challenges at their stores as baggers. This approach mirrors the one taken by Roundy’s (Pick ‘n Save) in the Milwaukee area.

As a community, we need to change the way we look at individuals with challenges, or what some call obstacles, and find ways to include them in the greater community. As business owners and managers, we need to find ways to work with local organizations like Goodwill, the Milwaukee Center for Independence and others at finding positions in our organizations that could employ these individuals with abilities that are not fully utilized.

After the Hairspray performance, I overheard a number of the actors and their friends discussing the show and complimenting each other’s performances. One actor asked another if he was working on Saturday and he replied, “Yes, I will be at McDonald’s.” The sheer joy that was expressed by this person that he had a job was remarkable. Too often, we take for granted that we have a job to go to the next day. Everyone should have a job to go to and we as employers can help these able special adults find a job, so they can feel the joy of making a contribution.

While watching the performance, I could see each actor gain confidence as the show progressed. They engaged in dialogue, danced, sang and hit their marks like seasoned professionals.

The Detour Company Theatre has outgrown its current rehearsal facility. It is now utilizing the Scottsdale Center for The Arts to showcase its performances. There are many adults and volunteers waiting to join its program.

While sitting in the audience, I asked myself, ‘Why doesn’t Milwaukee have such a company of actors?’ We have a number of small theater groups and as a community we support the arts at many levels. Now is the time to add another company to the list, one that includes these adults with “special abilities” waiting to perform for an audience.

Let’s put the spotlight on what people can do, not what they can’t do. To find out more about this organization, its mission and its history, you may visit its website at www.detourcompanytheatre.org/Detour2012/Welcome.html.

Cary Silverstein, MBA, is the president and CEO of SMA LLC and The Negotiating Edge. He leads a group of consultants that provide services in the areas of strategic planning, negotiations and conflict resolution with offices in Fox Point. He can be reached at (414) 352-5140 or at Csilve1013@aol.com.

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