March 19, 2014

PUBLIC FORUM: Changing the focus to what people can do


---- — Changing the focus to what people can do

For 60 years, Peak Community Services has offered a range of residential and vocational choices for individuals with intellectual disabilities. One of the many important aspects of our work is to ensure that members of our community are aware of the nature and impact of disability.

The Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities provides much information about the variety of disabilities. Once each year in March, Disability Awareness Month focuses public attention on the needs, abilities, and contributions of people with disabilities. However, most significant disabilities are not a month long experience; developmental disabilities including intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, Autism; or individuals who have experienced strokes with serious impact, traumatic brain injuries, or other serious and significant conditions resulting in lifelong disability live with that disability every day.

In the past, the focus when discussing disability is on what the person cannot do. A goal of Disability Awareness Month is to change that perspective and shift it to what the person is able to accomplish without denying the reality of the disability. By focusing on the person’s abilities, we have found that completely new vistas of opportunity open. By implementing assistive technology, personal support, environmental modifications, and providing training, people with disabilities are able to live satisfying lives more independently and achieve more personal meaning.

Disability Awareness activities help make people aware that not all disabilities are visible. When someone pulls into a parking space reserved for those with disabilities and the individual does not use a mobility aid, they probably have a disability such as a heart, lung, bone, or other disabling condition that is not readily apparent but that is a genuine disability. Sometimes the issue is not how you walk; it is how long or how far you can walk.

During our lifetime, almost everyone will become disabled. That reality is the reason for one of our most basic fears, the fear of losing the ability to do the things we do every day, the things in which we take pride and take for granted. Sometimes when we encounter a person with a disability we shy away not out of personal dislike, but because we unconsciously fear the loss of our own ability. Disability Awareness Month is the opportunity to learn the reality that being disabled does not make anyone less of a human being.

Don Weikle

CEO, Peak Community Services