Recently, in the Kalamazoo Gazette there was an article about Olivia Vasquez becoming the Homecoming Queen at Loy Norrix High school. I was delighted as I have had an opportunity to meet this vivacious young lady who has Down Syndrome. Today, I read an article about Jimmy Jenson, the first man with Down Syndrome to complete the New York City Marathon. Also, in the news was Jacob Brock who scored his first touchdown in a football game and he happens to have Cerebral Palsy. It is encouraging that more and more people with disabilities are being welcomed, supported and respected in certain aspects of the community. This is good news. The Arcadia Institute and the Connect Kalamazoo Network appreciate this movement toward inclusion of people with disabilities in their communities; however, as we celebrate these events we also stop to reflect on what this means for people. The people above have been celebrated for accomplishments in the areas of sport, recreation and social life. Yet, what about being welcomed, supported and respected in the areas of choosing where to live and competitive employment?
People with disabilities often live with very low incomes, have little choice about where to live and high unemployment. They still are most likely segregated in school and special programs. Many live in isolated lives that are controlled by family or paid supports.
So the question I think we need to ask when we read the stories above is: How the inclusiveness shared in theses news stories will be translated in to more opportunities for people with disabilities to live where they choose and be competitively employed? When Olivia and her peers are adults will they be willing to help her find employment or support people with disabilities as co-workers? When the young men who stood aside so Jacob could score a touchdown are finding their own homes will they be willing to create a neighborhood that supports people with disabilities in their own homes? How can we all create the whole community to be welcoming, supportive and respectful of people with disabilities?