You are an important person – the result of a complex mixture of characteristics that combine to form your personality. You have both positive and negative qualities – strengths and weaknesses – as well as personal likes and dislikes. Most significantly, you are totally unique and different from everyone else. You belong to the human family and yet you are an individual. You defy simple descriptions and labels because you are more than just a “type of person”. Each of us is convinced of our own worth. We each believe that the world would be changed forever if we were not present, and, to a degree, that is certainly true. We all play our respective parts in life and without us things could not possibly be the same.
An individual with a developmental disability is a person too.
They also have a role to play in life. They laugh and they cry, they feel joy and pain, and they have hopes and dreams. They are optimistic and confident as they make plans and achieve goals. They rise up to face challenges, and they are rightfully proud of their accomplishments. They long to be as independent as possible, and they want to be accepted for who they are. They want to be considered as equal human beings who deserve the same respect and dignity as anyone else – which means they want the opportunity to just be themselves. They want the chance to participate in society. They want to love and be loved. They do not want to be unfairly defined by a single label.
When you find out that someone is intellectually challenged how does it change your perception of that person?
Do you treat them differently?
Do you feel uneasy around them?
Do you feel sympathy for them?
Do you avoid them?
Do you feel superior to them?
Do you want to help them?
If you focus entirely on this single aspect of their humanity you are missing the complete person who has so much to offer the world. We must open our hearts and our minds to the reality of what makes us human. An IQ score is not the determining factor in our value to society. We must look past the labels that are used to unfairly limit the potential of a person. There are now 7 billion human beings on earth, and 3% are “defined” as intellectually challenged. That means that millions of people all over the world carry a descriptive stigma that haunts them for all of their lives. No one should have to carry a burden that is forced on them by others.
Just because an individual may be non-verbal doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a lot to say – we just have to find new ways of communicating. When an individual cannot count to ten, it doesn’t mean she can’t hold a job – we just need to make the necessary adjustments that allow her to work without the pressures of math. If an individual has difficulty understanding proper hygiene it is not a reason for him to be ridiculed – instead we need to work with him to improve his living skills so he can avoid unnecessary illness. Whatever particular challenge a person faces we can find workable solutions that will help them to thrive and be a part of the community. Every person deserves our best effort to include them in all areas of society.
For the world to ever be a fair and just place, all life must be equally valued. There can be no exceptions to this truth. Every human being, no matter what their physical or mental capacity may be, has the right to pursue happiness, good health and purposeful meaning in their lives. In order for this to occur we must become better people ourselves. We must grow in our acceptance of those who may, on the surface, seem different. We must learn to overcome our preconceived notions about how much a disability should be allowed to define a person, and ultimately we must have compassion for all human beings.
It is true for all of us that life can be difficult under the best of circumstances. It should not be made more demanding because of the narrow minded opinions of others. Individuals who happen to be intellectually challenged are more than just a diagnosis. They are real people living real lives. It is up to each one of us to look past the disability and accept the person inside. If we will do this, the entire world will change. Certainly those that have suffered so long from neglect, abuse and intolerance will enjoy a dramatic improvement in their lives, but it will also have a positive affect on the rest of us. Nothing but good can come from treating everyone with consideration and appreciation. All of humanity will benefit if we learn to accept every individual as the completely unique and special person they are.