Sunday, December 28, 2008

Red Nosed Reindeer and People with Disabilities

My family was watching Rudolph the day before Christmas, and I realized how much it says about our culture's attitude toward people with disabilities. Throughout the movie, the majority of the characters shun those who are different and differently abled. Even Santa's prejudice is revealed, although he learns his lesson.

The island of misfit toys reminded me of the low employment rate for individuals with disabilities. Nearly everyone can do work of some kind, and most people, including those with disabilities, want to be gainfully employed. People with disabilities, however, are often denied employment, even at tasks that they can perform. Many of those with significant support needs who are fortunate enough to be employed work in sheltered workshops - like the island of misfit toys, these workshops are segregated work places that offer little interaction with peers without disabilities.

Rather than shunting those who look, act, move, speak, or think differently aside, why not recognize that people of all abilities belong in our community, fully integrated at work, social life, religious communities, etc. Why not recognize that the full range of abilities falls within the natural spectrum of humanity? Why not give them the respect that is due to every person?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Earlier this month I had an opportunity to speak to students in a speech-language pathology class about fragile x syndrome and parenting children with disabilities. Few people, including therapists, know what fragile x is, so it was a wonderful opportunity to share what I've learned over the past 16, nearly 17 years. What I did not say, however, was what a blessing the children have been to me, and how much I have learned about compassion and empathy, about the hearts of others, and about love that asks for nothing but love in return. At this time of year, it is important to remember these lessons and to cherish the time that I have with my children and with others affected by disabilities.