I am a husband, father, son, brother, uncle and friend. I believe in sharing my talents and experiences by giving back to the community by giving my time to coaching, church and especially to the disability community. I truly believe that all men and women are created equally.
In 1987 President Reagan (http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/speeches/1987/022687c.htm) declared March, Developmental Disability Awareness Month. While much has been achieved, we still have a long way to go. Many individuals with Developmental Disabilities still face discrimination today.
We have the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)( http://www.ada.gov/), we have the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)( http://idea.ed.gov/explore/home) and The Developmental Disabilities Assistance and Bill of Rights Act (http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/add/ddact/DDACT2.html). All of these positive pieces of legislation presume the fact that individuals with developmental disabilities are treated as respected members of our community.
Yet individuals with developmental disabilities face low expectations and discrimination every day. Individuals with disabilities are more likely to be bullied. Individuals with disabilities have a disproportionately higher poverty rate, lower graduation rates. Doctors are working on prenatal testing to give families “options” if there is a significant risk of a child being born with Down syndrome. They make an individual feel as if there is something wrong with having Down syndrome. Does this sound like we are treating all members of our community with respect?
As I began preparing for my next Partners in Policymaking class this coming weekend, I found it kind of ironic that our homework assignment led into my blog on the celebration of Developmental Disability Awareness Month. Our homework assignment was to identify our personal story and tie it in our personal stories into our personal messages. As many of you have read or know me, the story is familiar.
Hours after my first born child, a son named Tyler, arrived, I went downstairs to grab something to eat. When I came back up, my wife was in tears. I asked what was wrong, she said that the doctor came in and in a very matter of fact way stated that our son had Down syndrome and we should not have any expectations for him.
A couple of months later, we received a letter in the mail stating that an ad agency had seen pictures of our son and they would like the opportunity to meet with us about Tyler working in some print ads. Being new parents, we did not know any different and excitedly scheduled the appointment.
The day arrived for the meeting and my wife was upstairs getting Tyler ready for the interview. The gentleman from the agency arrived and we made some small talk. My wife called down that Tyler was ready and could I come upstairs and get him so she could finish getting ready. The first words out of the ad man’s mouth were “what is wrong with his eyes?” I told him that my son had Down syndrome. I was not expecting the reply of “we do not take kids like that.”
Within the first 3 months of Tyler’s life, we were told not to have any expectations and we do not take kids like that. We experienced discrimination at its worse. From that moment, I realized that I was going to ensure that Tyler was given every opportunity to succeed in life and have the opportunity to make his own decisions that would affect how he wanted to live his life. Just as I do not let people tell me how I should live my life, nobody should tell Tyler how he must live his.
It is because of these events that I am driven to ensure equal access for my son and others who have faced similar challenges. Along the way, I have met many great people who have blazed the path of equal opportunity. In talking with some, they realize the time is drawing near for the next generation to carry the torch to even greater heights.
While advocating with my son, not for him, but with him, I know that he is ready to be that next generation.