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People with disabilities contribute much to society

Last fall, I did a presentation to the Civitan Club of Fort Dodge. For those who don’t know, Civitan was founded in 1917 and adopted a special emphasis on helping people with developmental disabilities. I was asked to talk about LifeWorks, the industry in general, and even a bit about the fundraiser we were having in November. Civitan clearly embraced inclusion, evidenced by some of the club members who I happened to know have developmental disabilities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Developmental disabilities are a group of conditions due to an impairment in physical, learning, language, or behavior areas. These conditions begin during the developmental period, may impact day-to-day functioning, and usually last throughout a person’s lifetime.” Examples of developmental disabilities include autism spectrum disorders, cerebral palsy, fragile X syndrome, Down syndrome, Tourette syndrome, and more.

March is Developmental Disabilities Month. Reflecting on my experience in Civitan last fall led me to consider the broader idea of inclusion.

Inclusion is about recognizing and valuing the inherent worth and dignity of every individual, regardless of abilities. Everyone has something to offer. Inclusion is about ensuring our workplaces, public spaces, worship centers, and schools are accessible to everyone, and that we actively work to identify and remove barriers. Inclusion is about creating environments that are welcoming and supportive of all. Accessibility

One of the key aspects of inclusion is recognizing the diverse range of abilities that exist within our community. People with disabilities contribute valuable perspectives, talents, and skills to society. After the fall Civitan meeting, two club members asked me personally how they could help at the upcoming fundraiser. They volunteered, and served, enthusiastically. They did what they were asked to do very well, wholeheartedly, and with joy. Over the years, I have heard comments from many local employers about how much they have enjoyed having individuals with disabilities in their workforce. I have seen individuals with disabilities donating time and precious dollars to favorite causes.

People with disabilities often face barriers to full participation in social, economic, and cultural life. Adults aged 18 years and older with disabilities are less likely to have completed high school compared to their peers without disabilities (22.3% compared to 10.1%). People with disabilities are less likely to be employed. Many experience segregation, social isolation, and discrimination. By embracing diversity and ensuring that all individuals are able to fully participate and contribute, we can create more vibrant schools, workplaces, churches, and communities for everyone.

Inclusion is not just a matter of policy or legislation. It is a mindset. I’ve seen people asking caregivers questions about an individual with a disability rather than asking the person directly. Sometimes I’ve heard about people missing out on an event because they did not have a ride. Inclusion requires us to challenge our assumptions and prejudices, and to actively seek out and listen to people with disabilities. It challenges us to create opportunities for inclusion without waiting for them to arise organically.

Annually in March, United Cerebral Palsy and the ANCOR publish a report and promote resources. They call it “The Case for Inclusion.” Data, policy analysis, and other resources are available at: https://caseforinclusion.org/.

To mark the national launch of the Case for Inclusion 2024, ANCOR and United Cerebral Palsy will host a webinar on Tuesday, March 5th at noon. Viewers can glean an understanding of what the data reveals, as well as the roadmap for critically needed policy innovations and what advocates can do to support those innovations. One can register at: https://www.ancor.org/webinar/national-launch-of-the-case-for-inclusion-2024/ If what occurred last year happens again, the webinar will be put on the Case for Inclusion’s website for viewing at any time.

During March’s Development Disability Awareness Month, LifeWorks will promote The Case for Inclusion and other resources. Liking LifeWorks’ Facebook page will get you not only these resources, but photos, news, and other happenings as well.

As we celebrate Developmental Disability Awareness Month, let’s commit ourselves to the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Let’s actively work to find barriers that keep individuals with disabilities from being included in work, recreation, worship, and education, then break those barriers down. Let’s promote diversity all around us. We will be amazed at what happens as a result.

Teresa Naughton is the executive director of LifeWorks Community Services.

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