Disability newsbits

Deja vu revisited

Every once in awhile, public discourse focuses on the pros and cons of euthanasia. The issue is in the headlines in Belgium right now because that country’s Senate has voted to allow euthanasia for terminally ill children.

As the New York Times points out, euthanasia for children has been taboo in most countries ever since Nazi Germany put to death thousands of mentally and physically handicapped children during what was known as Kinder Euthanasie.

The Germans weren’t the only people who believed that so-called “defective” children should be eliminated. There was a strong eugenics movement in the United States 100 years ago and one of its results was that many states passed sterilization laws. These laws were designed to ensure that people with disabilities, those who were poor and others who lived on the edges of life could not reproduce.

There were also news stories about doctors who refused to treat newborns who had deformities. In one such case, a doctor in Chicago allowed a baby boy to die because his head was fused to his shoulder and he was born with a closed intestine. The child’s parents agreed with the doctor’s decision.

A hundred years later, we’re still debating the issue in some form or fashion.

Healthy lifestyles for people with disabilities

This is the final week for Paralympics in Sochi, and many people many not be clear on who these sporting events are for. The Paralympics are for individuals with physical disabilities. Competitors do not have intellectual handicaps, as do those who participate in the Special Olympics – a completely separate set of games.

As the Montreal Gazette points out, even though Special Olympics has been around for many decades, its focus has not necessarily been on healthy lifestyles for people with intellectual disabilities. These individuals often take more medications than people in the general population, yet they are not as likely to get routine exams for eyes, teeth and ears.

“Sport, health and healthy lifestyles can become powerful vectors in promoting the inclusion and social participation of people with an intellectual disability,” wrote Diane Morin, holder of the Chair of Intellectual Disabilities and Behavioural Disorders at the Université du Québec á`Montréal.

For that reason, it’s good to read that Special Olympics Quebec is offering special health clinics for athletes.

A teaching hotel

You’ve heard of teaching hospitals. How about a teaching hotel? My hat’s off to Marriott Hotels for its plans to build a hotel in Muncie, Indiana, staffed in part by people with disabilities.

The hotel will double as a training facility for individuals who want to go into the hospitality and food service industries. At the same time, it will provide training for human resource professionals in how to hire more employees with disabilities.

The idea for the hotel came from a dad who was frustrated at the lack of postsecondary opportunities for his son, who has Down Syndrome.

I hope to read more stories like this in the future as people with disabilities become more a part of our everyday lives. Read more about what the Brookwood Communities in Houston and Georgetown are doing to provide postsecondary work opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities on my previous blog post.

The Kennedy legacy

When most people think about the Kennedy dynasty, they think of politics and power and wealth. How could you think otherwise when three of the Kennedy brothers became U.S. senators and one became president?  One might also think of tragedy and heartbreak – with the assassinations of John and Robert and the deaths of Joe Jr. on the World War II battlefield and Kathleen in a plane crash.

Of course, when I think of the Kennedy legacy, I think of all these things. But I also reflect on all the family has done to advance the standing of people with intellectual disabilities. As is so often the case among people who take up causes, the Kennedys had personal experience with disabilities. John’s oldest sister Rosemary had a disability of some kind – the family always said it was an intellectual limitation. There is some debate about that diagnosis; nevertheless, Rosemary was the impetus for the family’s activism in the field of disabilities.

The Kennedys as activists

Rosemary’s younger sister Eunice prevailed upon John, when he became president, to establish the first President’s Committee on Mental Retardation. During his administration, he was the first president in history to welcome a person with an intellectual disability into the White House.

Later, Eunice and her husband Sargent Shriver founded the Special Olympics, providing athletic competitions worldwide for people with intellectual disabilities. Today, millions of athletes participate in sporting events in 170 countries.

The Shrivers’ son Anthony Kennedy Shriver built on their legacy by founding and building Best Buddies, an organization dedicated to creating one-to-one relationships and employment opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities. It is a volunteer organization, pairing college and high school students and adults with peers.

Best Buddies recognizes that people with intellectual disabilities are often excluded from society. By creating meaningful friendships, Best Buddies seeks to change public perceptions and to help people with intellectual disabilities live richer, more meaningful lives.

My dad was a Best Buddy

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, decades ago, long before the founding of Best Buddies, my dad filled a similar role for his younger brother. He tried to include his disabled brother in neighborhood baseball games and he protected him from tormenters. Later in life, I became my uncle’s Best Buddy, taking him out for hamburgers and for rides in the park.

As I’ve learned in writing about my uncle, people with intellectual disabilities want the same things as everyone else – love, belonging, and a sense of purpose. I’m grateful there are organizations like the ones the Kennedys founded to help people with special needs find a place in this world.