1. free from outside control; not depending on another’s authority.
2. not depending on another for livelihood or subsistence.
We all know what it means to be independent but when you seek to understand it’s importance to human development, you find that it’s a life-long process of physical, behavioral, cognitive, and emotional growth and change. Some people develop and excel in certain areas faster than others, but as human beings, we instinctually and continually strive to be more self-reliant and self-sufficient, to be able to create a life that is fulfilling.
There has long been the stigma that people with intellectual disabilities were helpless, could not care for themselves, and were unable to make their own decisions and have an independent life. Even families have stigmatized their own loved one. Eric Goll has come to see that society is so wrong about the capabilities of a person with intellectual disabilities. Life coach and founder of Empowering Ability, Eric is helping families get out of the incapability trap and open their minds to the Awesome ‘Ordinary’ Life that their loved ones can have.
Eric & Sarah’s Story:
Eric’s big sister, Sarah is a contributing member in her community, homeowner, pet owner, valued sister and daughter, has a vibrant social life and she also has a developmental disability. However, Sarah only recently gained these valued roles…You see, after high school Sarah continued life as usual, still living at home, dependent on the direction and assistance of her parents, but this time with nothing to do. She was involved in activities regularly but without any real stability and sense of purpose, her frustrations began to build and tensions at home grew quickly.
The family explored countless activities, programs and environments that would allow Sarah to thrive and find fulfillment, but with limited resources in their small community outside of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, they hit a dead end at every turn. Sarah was losing her patience with the nothingness and struggled feeling like she didn’t have a voice; she didn’t have a plan for her life and essentially felt overlooked. Like anyone else, she wanted opportunities to build her own social life and do the things that she was interested in.
In 2015, Eric got a call that changed the whole trajectory of his life. His mom, Janice, had reached her breaking point! She was physically, mentally, and emotionally burnt out and didn’t know what else could be done. More-or-less in tears, she knew things couldn’t go on the way they are because Sarah was beyond frustrated and yearning for more fulfillment in her life. Eric knew he had to engage and be part of the solution, so he left a career in business and made the decision to move back home.
Eric started to research and network to uncover the opportunities that are available for people with developmental disabilities. He was confident that he could help Sarah because he had seen firsthand that independence attainable. Eric had been a supportive roommate with his friend, Sam, who has a developmental disability. He became really close to their family and Sam’s mom. Through conversations with her and seeing Sam live his life, he gained an understanding of what was possible of a young man with the developmental disability living in his own home and having a paid job.
From Cheerleader to Life Coach
As a family, Eric recognized that to help Sarah create her own life, she needed some sort of life plan or direction to help have the conversations of what she wanted of her life as well as what the family thought her life could look like. Sarah knew Sam and saw him as a role model for what was possible for her life, so when she made her life plan goals, she set them high. Sarah didn’t just want to increase her capabilities of self-care, cooking and cleaning, she wanted her own place, a roommate, a paid job, and the independence to plan her own day and make her own decisions.
For Sarah, a life plan had never been thought of before. Eric and his family admittedly had low expectations of what they thought Sarah’s future would look like. Society had consciously or unconsciously trickled that mindset into them and that part of supporting Sarah was believing in the possibilities of what she could accomplish in life. It certainly wasn’t an easy road. For Sarah’s mom, Janice, it was a challenging transition. At first, she was skeptical but as Sarah began reaching milestones and expanding her social horizons, she realized how wrong she was. But Janice struggled to shed the caregiver mindset. Cooking and cleaning and doing things for Sarah is also how she felt valued. Her identity was based around being a caregiver, so it took some time for Janice to realize that what she was doing was taking opportunities away from Sarah.
Eric’s networking led to valuable insights and resources and in 2016 he started a podcast, became a certified coach, and began working with families one-on-one to build a life plan for their loved one. In 2018, he realized that he could help more families by designing a course to guide families through the journey of helping their loved one find more independence and live an awesome ordinary life.
Building a Life Plan
The Empowering Ability Life Plan Coaching Program is a 10-week course comprised of seven modules that guide families through the core areas that are important to us as human beings; Connect, Capability, Relationships, Home, Support and Finance, all while helping families become emotionally ready and shift their mindset to be able to see the possibilities.
Families will learn how to connect deeper with their loved one and empower them to enhance their capabilities and accelerate their growth and independence. They will take an emotional readiness journey that will ease fears and put safeguards in place that will allow them to take the necessary steps forward. As you are building a plan for your loved one, you do so alongside other families doing the same for theirs. Families are able to provide emotional support to one another and grow together through shared experiences.
A huge part of what makes this course so powerful is the fundamental change in thinking that trickles into every facet of that caregiver’s life, but also that person with a disability’s life. If people like your mom or your dad now see you as more capable and having more potential, then seeing the opportunities available for you as not just limited to a group home or a day program, they now see the opportunity of that. You could get a paid job, become a valued and contributing community member. Those shifts in thinking lead to the outcome of that person being more capable, more confident, and getting more life experiences.
See the Possibilities
All of these things connect together to helping a person build their own awesome ordinary life because you can’t just think about one element of a person’s life, you have to be thinking about a person’s life holistically. Eric has made it his mission to change that for families and for people for disabilities.
He is also proud to say that Sarah has conquered many of the life plan goals she set for herself. She has a support circle and friends, is contributing to her community and participating in social activities. She also has her own place and a roommate, Annie her cat. Eric says she couldn’t be happier.
Is your loved one ready to build a life plan and live their most awesome ordinary life? You are cordially invited to join Eric’s Free Life Plan Workshop.
To learn more about Empowering Ability visit www.empoweringability.org.
All Photos courtesy Goll Family and Jaleel Debs
If you want to learn more about creating an “Awesome Ordinary” life, visit https://www.empoweringability.org/
More From the Author
- Empowering Ability
- Life Plans: Can you envision your loved one’s future?
- Tip to Grow Your Loved Ones’ Independence
- 3 Steps To Make Progress This Year
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This post originally appeared on our January/February 2022 Magazine