In San Antonio, Texas alone, 8% of our children from ages 0-17 have some kind of disability. To put it more plainly that’s about 40,000 children and families. More than likely we all know a family that has a disabled member. Inclusion of those in our disability community into our broader society is essential and enriches our communities.
Inclusion over Exclusion
As active supporters of the disability community, we want families to know that they are not alone, that we value them, and their contributions to society enrich our communities as active participants in social, school, work, and home environments.
In a world where words matter, it’s important to communicate properly and know that people with disabilities are people who have individual abilities, interests, and needs.
People First Language
Like many other demographics, the disability community has developed preferred terminology and language—it’s called People First Language.
People First Language is an objective way of acknowledging, communicating, and reporting on disabilities.
It eliminates generalizations, assumptions, and stereotypes by focusing on the person rather than the disability.
Equally important, ask yourself if the disability is even relevant and is inclusion of it necessary when referring to individuals, in the same way, racial identification is being eliminated from news stories when it is not significant.
When we see a pregnant woman, we are intrigued to ask, “Are you having a baby boy or are you having a baby girl?”
The responses can be one or the other, but the majority of the time we hear “It doesn’t matter, as long as our baby is healthy”.
Well, having a child with a disability doesn’t mean your child is unhealthy.
Nevertheless, it means they will learn differently. You will learn and adapt to the different ways of parenting, teaching, or interacting with a child who needs therapy and early childhood interventions to master skills other children master with time.
Similarly, for anyone with a chronic illness, we seek to understand, we ask questions, we attend classes, and we share with the world what we have learned.
But why wait? Why do we have to know a loved one or meet a person with a disability to think beyond that? Most importantly, why focus on their disability instead of their different abilities and what special skills their inclusion can bring to the world?
Let’s focus on what people with disabilities CAN DO, and what their abilities are instead of their disabilities.
Looking for Abilities
As a parent of multiple kids with different abilities, I can share that they all have strengths. They have loads of determination and are out-of-the-box thinkers, honest, creative, and loving, and have a way to teach others the unimaginable through their inclusion in our community. They are leaders and emerge feelings of empathy, compassion, and kindness in everyone they meet. I have seen firsthand how kids just see kids. It’s the adults that make the differences stand out.
When we focus on abilities it helps everyone. It helps me, their teachers, their friends, and the people around them to see them as a typical person first, then see their challenges and use that information to see what areas to focus the support they are needing. Focusing on strengths changes how others view them but, ultimately how they view themselves.
Holland…A Parent’s Perspective
Welcome To Holland
by Emily Perl Kingsley, Copyright©1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley.
All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the author.
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this……
When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The flight attendant comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”
“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”
But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.
Take the time to befriend someone in the disability community, recognize their contributions to society and the very special, the very lovely things they have to offer. Enriching our community through the inclusion of those in the disability community is a great start.