Our introduction to the disabilities world came with the birth of our son Nick almost eight years ago. Before then we had no real experience with people with disabilities, and we harbored many misconceptions. Most of the misconceptions cleared fairly quickly. But with clarity came the realization that society makes life harder than it needs to be for people with cognitive disabilities. Whether in education, employment or recreation, doors open to the rest of us are, if not locked, shut tightly.The more we confront the closed doors, the more we realize that people do not usually exclude those with disabilities out of malice or ill-will. The barriers, it seems, spring more often from fear of the unknown, from ignorance, from a simple lack of understanding. And if this is true, the fix should be simple.
If we were The King of the World, we would require every person to get to know someone with a disability. Not out of sympathy or as a service, but as one human being interested in another, interested in taking a walk in the other’s shoes. As so many of us here tonight understand, once you get to know someone with a disability, the label fades and the personality shines. The person emerges, someone not so different from us.
Life is harder for people with disabilities. Some of the difficulty has nothing to do with societal attitudes. People with Down syndrome do learn more slowly than others, they are more prone to various medical problems … and those are things we don’t know we can change. But the biggest challenge we see is the exclusion that comes from society’s ignorance, from the distance created by the disability label, the perceived difference it creates. And somewhat ironically, the greatest difficulty could be overcome with the simplest of actions: get to know each other.
We hope you will leave tonight with a renewed spirit to encourage others to meet the people behind their disabilities. That connection would, we believe, give us all a much better sense of community while giving people with disabilities the respect and dignity they deserve. We thank all of you for attending our Sixth Annual Visions of Hope for Their Future dinner gala, and for supporting our efforts to make the world a better place for people with Down syndrome. Please enjoy the evening.
William and Dana Halle