Lawrence County must work to #039;Think Ability First#039;

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 9, 2005

Most people get angry when they're left out. They feel hurt or disappointed when they're not invited to an event hosted by friends.

Most people don't want to recall the memory of being picked last - or not being picked at all - for a schoolyard game.

Being excluded isn't fun. It creates a flood of negative emotions like sadness, isolation and loneliness.

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Unfortunately, it happens every day to people with developmental disabilities. They're often excluded from routine activities, left out of events commonly attended by others. It doesn't have to be this way.

March is Mental Retardation / Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. It's a time to refocus attention on ways to include people with disabilities in all areas of life.

This year's theme, "Think Ability First," is a challenge to each person in Lawrence County to look past the disabilities of others and instead consider their abilities and potential in life.

"Why don't you join us?" are five simple but powerful words. They indicate acceptance, approval and appreciation. Asking someone to spend time together is perhaps the most significant gift one can give. Many people don't give a second thought to picking up the telephone to invite friends out for lunch. It's an easy thing to do and provides an enjoyable afternoon for all.

So, why is it difficult to call up someone with a developmental disability and extend the same invitation? It could be because you want to avoid the uncomfortable stares of others. Or, maybe you don't want to be treated differently because your friend is in a wheelchair. Or, has impaired speech. Or, 'looks different.'

Are those real reasons - or excuses?

People with developmental disabilities, like Down syndrome, cerebral palsy or mental retardation, generally don't want special treatment. They want equal treatment.

Generally, they want to have the same kinds of homes and jobs as anyone else in the community.

People with developmental disabilities want access to the same opportunities for education, health care and recreation.

The next time you plan to attend a public function or schedule a family outing, don't just think about inviting a friend with special needs. Put your thought into action. Pick up the telephone and say those five simple words.

"Why don't you join us?" can be the first steps to erasing stigma and removing attitudinal barriers in our community.

Sarah Diamond Burroway is the grants and special projects and the MRDD Awareness Committee chairperson for the Lawrence County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.