I know I’ve mentioned my son, Andrew, in my blog before. Andrew is a 17 year old junior in high school with a personality many wish they had. He is very friendly, outgoing and kind. He befriends everyone and has more friends than most people I know. As an example, this summer when we went to the University of Tennessee for a church youth conference, traveling companions noted they thought we were in some sort of competition to chat up strangers! I know, in part, where he developed this amazing skill. Andrew is a person with a disability – he is missing his left arm. Andrew has taught me so much about the determination of someone who has physical challenges not letting it get in the way of living an exciting and extremely fulfilling life. When he was younger Andrew thought I was a real-estate developer! It came up in a discussion about disability. During the conversation he said I didn’t know what I was talking about. I asked him what I did for a living and he said I was a “developer”. I realized I had been involved in so many real estate and building projects at work, church and church camp that he thought I was a real estate developer for a living. He was surprised when I told him I had been working in the area of employment for individuals with disabilities for over 30 years. Of course, now he thinks I am just plain clueless because I am his dad and dads are dorks.
This year, along with some neighborhood kids, Andrew volunteered for a couple who run the “My Morbid Mind Haunted House” during the month of October. His job was to scare people. To do this he wore makeup that made it appear his arm has been torn off leaving him covered in blood. Actually from the pictures I was impressed with the sophistication of the makeup. After his first day on the job we had a chat. I told him I was conflicted about this project. I understood that he thought of this as fun and that he likes to do things like this, including lying in wait to scare me when I walk down the hall in our house. But I told him from a disability stand point I didn’t like it since it reminded me of the “freak shows” that traveled around exhibiting people with disabilities like animals in a cage. So I hopped on my disability rights soap box and discussed how far we had come as a society from that time of showing people off to hiding them in institutions to finally a place of acceptance and inclusion. I think he got my point but I am concerned it wouldn’t take much for society to slip back to where we were once before.
I get concerned in this era of significant fiscal challenges that we may be shifting our priorities turning us into a society which is more individually-focused and devoid of empathy. I could see this society easily shifting gears – currently the cost of serving an individual with developmental disability in long term community employment and living supports is less expensive than a state run residential facility. But if, in fact, the costs were lower in an institution I am not confident the policy makers wouldn’t choose fiscal concerns over human rights. I know we have come a long way. I have seen tremendous changes in how individuals with disabilities are treated in our communities. But in the name of fiscal conservancy, and in the midst of falling off the federal fiscal cliff, I am hoping the tide of public opinion will hold fast to the position of inclusion and acceptance for people with disability in our society.
As advocates it means we must be ever vigilant.
CEO Viewpoint is published by Jim Larson, CEO Morningside
This space is intended to share my thoughts and update the community on issues concerning Morningside and its clients as well sharing inspirational employment stories.
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