We're down to the last 3 days of Down Syndrome Awareness Month. I know I haven't posted much that is specific to Ds. For me, it's more of an exercise in putting part of our lives out there, in sharing some of our day-to-day and some of my thoughts.
I've talked about how I think that sharing individual families' stories is helpful for the narrative about what a life with Down syndrome can be like. I know that it's a valuable perspective in a world where much of the population questions whether people with Down syndrome should even be born. It's a part of the story, and an important one.
But there's so much more than giving glimpses of cute children, and proclamations that life is beautiful with Ds. Our life certainly is beautiful much of the time because of Cora. Because she happens to be a wonderful little girl and we are smitten with her. Her having Down syndrome has done nothing to make our lives less worth living.
There is much to be learned and taught and shared beyond awareness, though. What we all want for our loved ones with Ds and other disabilities really is acceptance. Acceptance that the value of their lives shouldn't be a legitimately debatable subject. Acceptance that people with disabilities belong in our communities, in our classrooms, in our lives. Acceptance that people with disabilities deserve to be able to work for reasonable wages, vote as citizens, and be considered adults with rights that others are granted without question.
There is so much more to acceptance than liking a Facebook post of a cute kid. There's awareness, which can be a great place to start, but there is really much, much more.
As Cora's parent, like all parents I am sure, I have so many hopes for her life. I hope for her to be able to follow her heart and do what she loves. I hope for her to form meaningful friendships and romantic relationships. I hope for her to be accepted by those around her; in the workplace, in her home, in her community. I hope for her to get an education. I hope for her to feel that she is a worthy human being. I hope that she likes and loves herself. Simply being aware of her isn't going to be enough to get there, unfortunately. It will require advocating on our parts, on her part, and hopefully on your part, as well.
You may ask yourself what things can you do to help support acceptance of those with Down syndrome and other disabilities? Well, to start with, you can model to your children that having interactions and friendships with people with disabilities is natural. You don't have to tell your kids that it's important to help people with disabilities, as much as teaching them that everyone is different, and that each person has different abilities and talents and challenges. That the variety of perspectives you get with different are valuable and important. You can support legislation like the Able Act, that would allow people with disabilities to live more financially independent lives without compromising their eligibility for government programs. You can eliminate hateful pejorative terms like the "r-word" from your vocabulary, and help educate those around you that the attitude that these terms perpetuate is harmful to many. You can support inclusion in your community, in your schools, and in your lives by simply including people with disabilities and recognizing that they belong.
Awareness may start with cute photos, but acceptance is something we can work on every day. It's amazing to see how far our society has come in our attitudes toward those that are different, but there is so far to go. Imagine how far we can get in our lifetime alone if we all recognize ourselves as advocates.