More than 350,000 Iowans have a disability

The good news is that they contribute to our lives beyond our expectations

Did you know that more than 350,000 Iowans have a disability?

Did you know that over 48,000 of those individuals have a mental or physical disability acquired before they turned 22?

Did you know a disability acquired before the age of 22 is known as a “developmental disability?”

Those 48,000 people touch a lot of lives. Let’s suppose that each of the 48,000 have two parents, one uncle, one aunt, one sibling, and one living grandparent. This means these 48,000 people with a developmental disability are related to 288,000 other Iowans. That’s about equal to the size of Waterloo, Cedar Falls and Davenport combined. If each of the 48,000 people also have two neighbors and one friend, that would touch the same number of lives as people living in all of Polk County. If each of the 48,000 also have a teacher, a boss or a direct service professional, 480,000 Iowans are impacted. That’s more than half the number of people living in Wyoming. A whole host of others are not even included in this number. People with developmental disabilities see doctors, eat at restaurants, and go shopping. Some worship at their local church, participate in clubs, attend classes, and ride a bus.

Is it possible that every Iowan’s life has been touched by someone with a disability?

March is nationally recognized as Developmental Disabilities Awareness month. This is the month to remember contributions people with developmental disabilities have made. This is the month to teach the importance of inclusion.

“It is important to recognize the person and not the disability. By placing the person first, the disability is no longer the primary, defining characteristic of an individual but one of several aspects of the whole person. Once we start to recognize the unique talents everyone offers, we can truly start to create inclusive communities,” said Brooke Lovelace, Iowa DD Council executive director.

Dr. Tracy Rackensperger works at the University of Georgia’s Institute on Human Development and Disability as a public service faculty member. She teaches a class on disability. She is a native of Florida, but left because she got tired of the heat and the crowds. She enjoys the outdoors, walks her dog, Charlie, and says fishing is her “happy place.” She likes Mexican, Italian and Indian food. She also has cerebral palsy, a developmental disability. She uses a wheelchair, and requires assistance to do many things in her life. However, she has also accomplished much. Her most interesting story can be found at: https://tinyurl.com/yxpgq8ac.

In the video, Tracy said, “You do not overcome disability, you overcome society’s exceedingly low expectations of people with disabilities.”

It is easy to look at a person with a disability and make assumptions. It is easy to assume that a person who speaks slowly is not smart. Many assume a person with a disability can’t read. Some people assume they can make fun of a person with a disability, and that person won’t be hurt. Assumptions can be very, very wrong.

What if we considered their abilities, and asked them to contribute those skills and talents? What if we expected people with disabilities to work or volunteer?

Well, there are some forward-thinking employers and organizations that have stepped up to the plate and have done just that.

Applebee’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Crestview Care Center, Dairy Queen, Family Bowling, Fareway, Fort 8 Theater, Hardees, Holiday Inn, Humboldt Middle School, Humboldt Recreation Center, Humota Theater, Hy-Vee, Iowa Central Community College, Kwik Star, Laufersweiler-Sievers Funeral Home, LifeWorks Community Services, McDonalds, One Vision, Party Productions, Sister’s Home Entrees, Taco Tico, Village Inn, and Walgreen’s currently employ people with disabilities.

ADF Manufacturing, Anderson and Company, the American Legion Post 119, Community Housing Initiatives, DART, The Fort Dodge Messenger, Head Start, Iowa Central Community College, Manpower, Ridgewood Lanes, Webster County Conservation, and W&H Coop have crews of individuals employed by LifeWorks Community Services that work at their sites.

Individuals with disabilities also do a lot of volunteering. People give their time and talents at such places as Almost Home, First Congregational United Church of Christ, The General Store, Gilmore City Day Care, Holy Trinity Parish Food Pantry, Humboldt Hospital’s Long Term Care Unit, The Lord’s Cupboard, Meals on Wheels, St. Olaf Lutheran Church, St. Paul Lutheran Church, South Care Center, and the Stylin’ Pooch. They also ring bells annually for The Salvation Army, collect pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald House, bake dog biscuits for Almost Home, bake cookies for various nonprofits, and make cards for Operation Gratitude as well as local nursing homes.

Jay Johnson is an extraordinarily social person. He lives in his own place in Fort Dodge. In addition to working at Buffalo Wild Wings, he attends church (at least when the weather permits). He is the secretary of a service club. He knows a lot of Kiwanis Club members, and they also know him. He carries a cell phone, and remains in contact with his brother and his many friends. Jay is quite the traveler. Because his father sold parts on the road, Jay knows many Iowa highways. He has also been to South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington State, Oregon, Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Texas, Tennessee, and Florida. He is a friend, an employee, a church member, a service club officer, a Dodger, a family member, and … a person who happens to have a disability.

Jay, along with many others, is a great person to meet.

Please consider getting to know someone new. Please like LifeWorks Community Services’ Facebook page, to see posts about Disability Awareness Month. If you are an employer, please think about work opportunities you can offer to individuals with disabilities. Finally, remember that disability awareness is something that takes place in all the months of the year and not just March.

Teresa Naughton is executive director of LifeWorks Community Services in Fort Dodge.

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