We read with pleasure about the Day of Champions, where students with developmental and intellectual disabilities (DID) come together to compete in athletic events. But we also feel compelled to highlight a common misperception, repeated in the article. Organizer J. Gurnsey put it like this: “(Volunteers) always walk away realizing they have it better than someone else.”
We believe he meant something more and different than that. It’s a great event. Our daughter participates, she loves it. And yes, people with DID struggle due to their disabilities. More importantly though, they struggle because of exclusion and denial of rights that we of the cognitively “normal” majority impose upon them.
As the parents of such a child, we appeal for a deeper examination of our attitudes toward intellectual diversity. If we are so much smarter, why haven’t we figured out how to include them? Rather than feeling lucky to be “normal,” what volunteers could get out of events like Day of Champions is the sense of a civilized society that embraces intellectual diversity, protects the civil rights of people with DID, and defines good citizenship as knowing how to live in a diverse community.
That understanding won’t come from a place of pity or superiority. It comes from being open to them as individuals. When we integrate, even when it feels difficult or inefficient, we all are enriched.
We can’t learn to accept difference in its absence. Recognize them, value them, learn from them, include them in everything we do.
Ann M. Vandemann & Christopher P.Jennings