Success isn’t measured by overcoming what you can’t do, it’s measured by excelling at what you can do.
A friend of mine was recently complaining about the resources necessary to provide support to some members of the community. “What?” I questioned him, “Everyone needs support from time to time.”
“Not everyone,” he shot back.
“Sure they do. Take LeBron James, good basketball player. Yet he still needs to have four other people help him do his job, or he’d be useless. Four people supporting him and helping him achieve…”
“Not the same thing.” My friend rolled his eyes, “not even close.”
But it is.
All people have skills and strengths and weaknesses and deficiencies. All people. It’s just that in most of the world people are measured by what they can do. In the disabled world, people are often measured by what they can’t do. Even the term disabled indicates a negative ability rather than a positive one.
So, here we are in March. Designated as Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month by President Reagan in 1987. A month to generate awareness of a broad range of conditions that include both physical and cognitive impairments. Conditions like Down syndrome, or autism, or language processing disorders, or visual or auditory impairment. In their study from 2008, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that about 13% of the U.S. population had a developmental disability and newer estimates from the CDC indicate 1 in 6 children (16%) live with at least one developmental disability.
In the past people with these issues were pitied, bullied, or ignored. Pushed aside because of differences instead of being embraced for similarities.
I would encourage all of you reading this to use this month to identify opportunities you might have during the other eleven to be a support to someone with a disability…or anyone for that matter.
Learn a new language, like American Sign Language (ASL). Volunteer at the Special Olympics. Come have dinner with us on Thursdays at the PRIDE building. Share your personal experiences. Listen to people’s personal experiences. Clear the ice and snow off of a wheelchair ramp.
Write a letter of support. Think about the words you use to describe or designate people. Seek out support when you need it. Offer support when you can. Volunteer at your favorite school. Come see our free movie at the Homer Theatre on March 15th. Or anything else you can think of…
If you still aren’t sure, there are multiple organizations in town that might have additional suggestions. Certainly ours, South Peninsula Behavioral Health, would. But reach out to the schools. Or the hospital, the Independent Living Center, or Head Start.
If one in every six children is living with a developmental disability, it’s no longer a matter of “those people over there,” it impacts all of us. Developmental Disabilities Awareness month is about trying to find a path for everyone. The support needed to get there. And measuring that success by the widely varied abilities we all have.
I think this idea was clearly illustrated at a recent Special Olympics Hockey celebration. A couple of the Homer High School hockey players came out to participate with Special Olympics athletes. After their first shift, I asked one of the young men from the high school team what he thought.
“Tough…” he gasped while wiping sweat from his brow, “I need to step it up out there.”
I asked one of the Special Olympic athletes what she thought of the high school players. “Good,” she smiled, “they seem teachable.”
Jay Bechtol is Chief Executive Officer for South Peninsula Behavioral Services.