Different but not Less

“There is no greater disability in society, than the inability to see a person as more,” said Robert Hensel. Having a disability does not limit the potential of an individual. Rather than focusing on what they cannot do, focus on the things they can do and you will be surprised. There are things that people with disabilities might do differently, but that does not make them less than everyone else. There are seven billion people in the world and not one of them is the same. When I think about my friends with disabilities, I think about how we are more the same than different.

Disability is a matter of perception. There are many different kinds of disabilities including physical, emotional and intellectual disabilities. This only means that the abilities they have are different. My friends with disabilities want many of the same things that I do. No one should be defined by their disability, but instead should be accepted, included, and seen for who they really are.  Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and kindness. My sixth grade teacher always emphasized the importance of people first language and I have made it a habit to always use it. People first language puts the person before their disability. For example, you should say “she has a disability” rather than “the disabled girl.” Using language like “disabled” and “handicapped” is offensive and diminishes someone’s worth.

Spread the word to end the word. Words like the r-word (retarded) are used carelessly and are demeaning to others. Even if it is used with the intention not to hurt anyone, it makes people feel incompetent, dumb, and worthless. But, these individuals are so much more. They are intelligent, unique, and most importantly, they are able. It was so cool that our Bismarck High School (BHS) peer-to-peer class could create a video that made a difference to spread the word to end the word. The video went viral with over 300 shares reaching 57,000 people around the country.

There are many opportunities in our community for you to get to know some of these individuals, some being through the Designer Genes – Down Syndrome Awareness Group and volunteering for the Special Olympics. I volunteer for these organizations as well as spend time with these individuals through my peer-to-peer class at BHS. We hang-out together in school, at lunch and at high school games. It makes me so happy to see them included and enjoying activities that all teens enjoy. Every time I am around my friends, I am amazed at their abilities, their kindness and the joy they bring to my life. Their positivity makes my day! Building a friendship with someone with a disability not only makes an impact in their life, but will make a huge impact in yours as well.

-Sydney Helgeson, Miss Bismarck’s Outstanding Teen 2017

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World Down Syndrome Day

By Ellen Stumbo

Every year on 3/21 we celebrate World Down Syndrome Day because there are three copies of the 21st chromosome.

My daughter is 9 years old and Down syndrome is something in her I cherish. I didn’t always feel that way, and I did not always understand why Down syndrome was “celebrated” on a day like today. But now I know.

 While Down syndrome is not what defines who my daughter is, Down syndrome is part of her identity. Every single cell in her body has an extra chromosome, which means Down syndrome cannot be separated from who she is.

 I often hear people use language about “overcoming” Down syndrome or achieving things “in spite of” Down syndrome. I don’t find those messages to be accurate about who my daughter is. She has not overcome Down syndrome because there is nothing to overcome, and she has achieved things not in spite of Down syndrome, but with Down syndrome as an inseparable part of who she is.

 We live in a culture that values intellect over all else, and I’m afraid those ideals are still present, still diminishing those who have intellectual disabilities — as is the case with most people who have Down syndrome. It is hard to imagine that someone would celebrate all aspects of Down syndrome, including an intellectual disability. But I do.

 “For you created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb, I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Psalm 139: 14

 

My daughter is perfect, exactly the way she is. She is fearfully and wonderfully made. Her intellect, her charm, her personality, the shape of her eyes — every single part of her body — masterfully planned and created by a loving God. This is why I celebrate on World Down Syndrome Day, because God in His wisdom has chosen to make us all diverse — not only in our outward appearance — but in our intellects, in our neurodiversity, in our physical abilities, in the ways we communicate. And I believe life is more beautiful for all of us, when we feel ready to embrace and celebrate all our differences.