(This piece originally appeared today in The Patterson Irrigator.)
Recently, this newspaper chronicled the story of Owen Tyler— a seventh grade student with Down syndrome that is an active and valued member of the Creekside Middle School wrestling team. A video from one of his matches went viral online, highlighting the story of his inclusion in school and community activities. When I saw the video myself, it made me smile. After all, where there is inclusion, all humanity thrives and flourishes.
I would like it if we lived in a world where stories like Owen’s became commonplace. That inclusion became the rule, not the exception. That videos like the one from his wrestling match became so ordinary that there would be no need for it to be on television news.
As a disabled adult, I can attest to the importance of inclusion. I spent my youth mainstreamed in school classes and welcomed in extracurricular activities. This allowed me to grow and shaped the adult I would become. Further, I learned that each diverse voice counts, and that includes disabled voices like mine. Like Owen’s.
We must remember that inclusion of disability doesn’t end in childhood— it must continue on into our later years, too. After all, we spend much more of our lives as adults than we do as children. So, as a society, we must commit to this principle. We must value these life experiences and the importance they bring to society at-large.
The disability community is the only community of which anyone (regardless of age, race, gender, and income) can suddenly find themselves a member. An illness, an accident, the effects of age, can all lead someone to become disabled. At any time. This is why valuing inclusion is so important. Because there’s a good chance that it could affect you, or someone you love dearly, at some moment in life.
There is a bipartisan bill sitting in Congress right now called The Disability Integration Act (S.117, H.R. 555). It seeks to secure the Constitutional right to liberty for disabled people and seniors who want inclusive lives in the community. It wants to help aging seniors and the disabled stay in their homes. It seeks to save millions of federal and state dollars by avoiding expensive institutionalization, which is far costlier and less-effective than home- and community-based services. But, most of all, it seeks to make the spirit of inclusion part of the law.
This bill needs public support to help it move forward. So, I urge you to learn more about The Disability Integration Act. Talk to your elected representatives. It could make a big difference to you and the future of your loved ones— whether you realize it now, or not.
After all, where there is inclusion, all humanity thrives and flourishes. Just ask Owen.