No one wants to be alone. No one wants to be left out. No one wants to be ignored – and certainly, no one wants to be discriminated against. Every human being has the desire to interact with others in a meaningful way. We all want to be acknowledged as equals, and we all want to be treated with the dignity and respect we deserve. This is no less true for people with developmental disabilities.
For too many years, these individuals were marginalized, neglected and even abused through no fault of their own. This behavior occurred mostly out of ignorance; however, that is no excuse. To deny people their right to participate fully in their community is wrong, whatever the reason. Everyone, no matter what their particular situation may be, wants to contribute to this life. They want to have their thoughts and ideas understood. They want to be appreciated. They want to be included in activities and events that are important to them.
Inclusion of those who have intellectual challenges is not only personally satisfying for them, it also allows society to experience, firsthand, the pleasure of interacting with individuals that they may have had limited contact with in the past. It is the chance to knock down the barriers that have kept 3% of the population from being accepted as full-fledged members of society. Inclusion is important because every person should have the opportunity to learn, to grow and to reach their potential.
Society must take the necessary steps to include people with developmental disabilities. Every effort should be made to allow an individual to participate in the activities of his or her choice. The community must be open to everyone with no restrictions. For those who hold political office, it is their duty to pass laws that make accessibility equal for all citizens. For the courts, it is incumbent upon them to enforce existing laws that enable those with disabilities to have equitable access to everything the community has to offer. Potential employers have an obligation to provide individuals with developmental disabilities the opportunity to have a job. Educators have a responsibility to make adaptions to their curriculum and teaching methods so that those who have intellectual challenges are not left behind in the classroom.
All of these efforts are important because it is a fact that inclusion benefits everyone.
For those who have been treated like second class citizens and worse, being included in the life of their community is enriching and rewarding in countless ways. It provides the opportunity to connect with other people, to make new friends and to develop healthy relationships built on mutual respect. It increases the self-esteem of those who are finally accepted for who they are instead of being rejected because of bias and misconceptions. But they are not the only ones who benefit from inclusion. Society itself is improved immeasurably when all of it citizens are allowed to take an active role in determining the level of involvement that is comfortable for them.
When we make the necessary commitment to include everyone in all areas of daily life, it makes us more thoughtful and considerate. We become kinder, gentler and more compassionate when we consider the needs of others instead of focusing exclusively on ourselves. We learn patience, tolerance, and acceptance as we develop an appreciation for what is really important in life. As we help those who have intellectual challenges change their lives for the better, we are also transformed. Inclusion brings us together. It breaks down barriers while creating a positive dialog between people who have far more in common than was previously thought.
Every person, in their own way, has something to contribute to our world. When they are denied the opportunity to make that contribution we all lose. But when we learn to practice inclusion we change the dynamics of our culture. We begin to reflect the inherent goodness that we are all capable of. That is why we must be willing to include those who have often struggled to find acceptance. We can no longer allow them to be ignored or forgotten.
All of us can take an active role in assuring that every citizen, regardless of any issues they might face, has the appropriate level of interaction in the community that they desire.
It is morally unacceptable for someone to be purposely left behind because we find it inconvenient to invest the time and effort to ensure that they are included in life.