Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Celebrate a new holiday -- Disability Awareness Month

Here's a great article written by Jeff Huffman who happens to be Nash's Daddy and you can go visit his Mommy's blog at Mauzy's Musings.

Jeff Huffman column: Celebrate a new holiday -- Disability Awareness Month

Help, employ those with disabilities; making a friend easy as saying 'hi.'

Written by Jeff Huffman
March 23, 2007

When you think of March holidays, what do you think about? St. Patrick's Day? Spring break? Dr. Seuss' birthday? (It's true, Dr. Seuss' birthday is being celebrated this week at Goddard School, where our son attends after morning kindergarten at White River Elementary.) How about that Uranus was discovered on March 13, 1781? (OK, my wife Jan found that one.) But did you also know that March is Disability Awareness Month? And this celebration is one where you not only should mark your calendars, but you should also take action.

If someone had asked me about Disability Awareness Month six years ago I would've told them I'd never heard of it. Now that I am involved in disability awareness, both professionally and personally, I realize, it's about "abilities" not "disabilities."

Six years ago our journey commenced when our son Nash was born with Down syndrome. I sought out every bit of information I could and realized that what textbooks, brochures and Web sites left out were the personal connections -- the real people, the ones that experience disabilities daily themselves or through a family member. These experiences molded my perception. People who don't walk the walk and live the everyday life don't know, and it's up to those that do to let others know the needs, the wants, the possibilities, the desires.

Today, individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities are open to a world of possibilities. That's partly due to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act that has given children with disabilities the right to attend public school since 1975, along with the Americans with Disabilities Act which gives individuals with disabilities the legal right to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, including employment.

So it might surprise you that 80 percent of individuals with disabilities are underemployed or unemployed. As a country, a state and a community we have to fix this final roadblock. How can we do this?

• Transportation is the No. 1 roadblock to employment, so continue to support Hamilton County's expansion of public transportation.

• Encourage everyone that your family does business with to hire individuals with disabilities -- 89 percent of Americans prefer to do business with organizations that employ people with disabilities, according to a Gallup Poll.

• Support school systems' efforts to accomplish great things for students with disabilities by supporting inclusion in classrooms and improving the transition process from school to work.

Those are just three easy ways that we can begin to celebrate Hamilton County's first "Annual Ability Awareness Month." The easiest way to start is do what I try to do everyday: When I meet a new friend who happens to have a disability I just smile and say, "Hi. . . . "

Jeff Huffman is president and chief executive officer of Janus Developmental Services.

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