In 1987, President Ronald Reagan declared March as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. Because holidays like St. Patrick’s Day are also in March, the awareness about people with disabilities can get overlooked. This month, we want to take a moment to reflect on its importance and highlight the dignity of all people.
The 70s and 80s paved the way for social change for those living with disabilities. With the support of President Reagan, “programs to provide career planning, job coaching, and employment for those living with disabilities began to increase. The idea that individuals with developmental disabilities could become productive members of the workforce was new to many people, and entrenched preconceptions had to be overcome.” (Source)
According to the Developmental Disabilities Act, the term developmental disability means a severe or chronic disability that happens before age 22 that is likely to continue and affects three or more of the following areas: self-care, receptive and expressive language, learning mobility, self-direction, capacity for independent living and economic self-sufficiency. Many of us are unaware of the challenges that those with special needs endure on a daily basis. While I have never raised children with special needs, I have friends who have. I will never know the challenges they face, but their strength, courage, and perseverance to endure and advocate for their child is commendable. I admire them greatly.
Developmental Disabilities Recommended Reading
Reading is a great way to get a look at something that you might not have experienced firsthand. Books, both fiction and nonfiction, can help you get closer to the issue. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards is an incredibly moving story in which a man decides to send his newborn daughter, who suffers from Down Syndrome, away to an institution. The nurse tasked with taking the baby to the institution decides to raise the baby herself, and the novel takes you along for that journey. Another great read is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon, a novel that centers around the detective adventures of a boy with an unnamed condition but that has indicators for developmental disabilities such as Asperger syndrome, high functioning Autism, or possibly Savant syndrome. Mark Haddon later noted in a blog that “”Curious Incident is not a book about Asperger’s….if anything it’s a novel about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way. The book is not specifically about any specific disorder” (Source). That, in itself, is a beautiful sentiment, as it focuses the book on the story, not simply a disability.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer is also told through the eyes of a boy with Aspberger’s syndrome who is navigating an emotional and confusing time after his father died in the September 11th terrorist attacks. This book would bridge nicely into our 117 Solutions in 2017 theme for next week: stories from survivors of terrorism.
Dignity of All People
Every person deserves respect. Every life is precious and has purpose and value. I am reminded of this quote from Pope Francis:
“Things have a price and can be for sale, but people have a dignity that is priceless and worth far more than things.”
I hope you can spend some time reflecting on the challenges that those living with disabilities face. Our country has come a long way in supporting them, but there is still so much more work to do. If you or someone you know has a solution to the challenges that those who live with disabilities face, please don’t be silent. Your story could be the hope and help that someone needs. Join us to find 117 Solutions in 2017.