By Daniel Smrokowski, Bugle Columnist. Reposted with permission of Bugle Newspapers
This week, we celebrate the United Nations’ International Day of Persons with Disabilities — a day where the world joins together to raise awareness about disability issues, promote action, and draw attention to the benefits of an inclusive and accessible community for everyone.
This is a time where we focus on an individual’s abilities and a time to educate our communities about how to include those of us with special needs. This year’s theme is “Inclusion matters: access and empowerment of people of all abilities.” Inclusion applies to people who are diagnosed with all types of disabilities — both visible and invisible disabilities.
Take, for example, this year’s sub-theme: Including people with invisible disabilities. It was back in my time in college that I first began to better understand both the invisible disability that I was diagnosed with, as well as the difference between disabilities that are seen and unseen.
Visible disabilities are often referred to as ones that people may visually perceive and therefore usually see something we are unable to do. Down syndrome, cerebral palsy or a speech disorder are a few common visible disabilities. An invisible disability is one that may take a little while for others to perceive. Learning disabilities and autism are a couple common invisible disabilities.
A good community is one that is built on inclusion, and the way we grow to have better inclusion of those of us with special needs is through acceptance. It is when we come to accept the different abilities that we show that acceptance, and inclusion can then become a regular part of our society. And, the way we come to have acceptance is through awareness.
Our communities need to first become aware of the various special needs that some individuals have. Awareness leading to acceptance and then inclusion can truly change the world.
A powerful example of acceptance and inclusion is that of my friend and previous “Special Voices” athlete Bree Bogucki. Bree, diagnosed with autism, is a fellow athlete and Global Messenger in Special Olympics Illinois.
She has always had a difficult time being accepted and included in a mainstream setting within her school. That is, until her sophomore year of high school when the game began to change.
It was the beginning of Bree’s sophomore year of high school when her older sister, Kailey, began attending college about four hours away from their home. Since Kailey had been Bree’s best friend, Bree had slipped into a depression.
For those who know Bree, she moves at a slow pace, as recalled by her mom, Mary Ellen, in a recent blog post.
In helping to combat her daughter’s depression, Mary Ellen took Bree to therapy. A few weeks after starting therapy, Bree came home and announced she had joined the high school track team. Mary Ellen reached out to the head coach who then suggested that Bree could be his manager.
But Bree didn’t want to be a manager, she wanted to participate. She wanted to run!”
Even though Bree came in last place during her first meet, her teammates, those without special needs, were proud of her. Her peers had accepted and included her as part of their community.
Fast forward to today, Bree is in her senior year of high school and added cross country to the list of mainstream sports she has participated in (she’s pictured above with her cross-country and track coaches). She has gone from last place to be an alternate on the girl’s varsity cross-country team. Bree added cross-country because for the first time in her mainstreamed life, she was accepted. Despite the invisible disabilities that she was diagnosed with, Bree was included.
It is with one’s own determination but also the right support, encouragement and friendship that one with invisible disabilities can be motivated to rise above any challenges that one may face along the way. Bree’s inclusive story shows us that we truly can live in a world accepting of those of us with invisible disabilities.
Join me on the United Nation’s Day of Persons with Disabilities and let’s change the world.
Daniel Smrokowski was born three-and-a-third months premature and was diagnosed with learning disabilities and a severe language disorder. He is an Athlete and Global Messenger with Special Olympics Illinois on the Southeast Association for Special Parks and Recreation team. Daniel is the founder of Special Chronicles nonprofit new media company, a pioneering network that gives respect and voice to people with special needs. Come join us at www.SpecialChronicles.com.