It’s a part of the human condition to want to be included. We want friends. We want people to talk to. “Community” is ingrained in us somewhere deep in our DNA.
OK, maybe not scientifically, but you get the point. We’re not meant to be solitary figures.
Yet, when Americans were asked in a survey where the best place to educate persons with developmental disabilities is, more than 60 percent say in a “special school,” secluded from other, “normal” students.
And when the sickening dental health of these individuals is explained to lawmakers and blamed on exclusions in health coverage for those who have disabilities, they shrug their shoulders and say, “Oh well.”
“This ought to make us furious,” said Timothy P. Shriver, PhD, chairman of the board and CEO of Special Olympics. Shriver presented Grand Rounds at Cincinnati Children’s on Tuesday, Dec. 6.
Instead, it’s “just the way it is.”
Depending on who is doing the counting, somewhere between 200 million and 800 million people in the world have developmental disabilities, Dr. Shriver said. As a group, they have difficulties accessing medical care, the quality of that care is suspect and the quality of their education is less than average. And while the disabilities themselves are sometimes difficult to live with, it is the “systems of exclusion” and the stigma of the disabilities that are worse, according to parents and the disabled, Shriver said.
Cincinnati Children’s has long been in the forefront of supporting children with developmental disabilities. Our Project SEARCH program is a model for finding meaningful employment for these talented people. Project SEARCH serves people with disabilities through innovative workforce and career development. Through this process, we educate employers about the potential of this underutilized workforce while meeting their human resource needs.
Dr. Shriver says more work like this needs to be done and that is why he is using Special Olympics to extend beyond the “games” it is most commonly known for. They are working on health screenings for the athletes, want to improve their education and become true advocates for the children and adults in all aspects of their lives. Much works needs to be done.
He cited a New York Times article just last week that detailed atrocities of a group home in Mexico. Conditions for people with developmental disabilities are awful around the world.
He called on all of us to get involved in embracing the diversity of the human race and welcoming those who are different from us to “sit at our table.” When he read a few lines from the graduation speech given by a Special Olympian at a high school in Vermont (he was chosen class speaker by his classmates), more than a few people had tears in their eyes: “Now the law says I can come to school.” the speech went. “No law can make me have friends.”
Dr. Shriver’s talk (you can read more from him at his blog) was not meant to be depressing, though some of the images and attitudes discussed could get you down. But they were also a call to arms.
We welcome the challenge and are happy to walk with those dedicated to improving the lives of all our children.
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