Friday, January 19, 2007


In an insightful piece written by Patricia Bauer for the Washington Post, she describes the lessons learned from twenty plus years of parenting a child born with Down syndrome. Her article was inspired by the recent recommendation from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for prenatal screening for Down syndrome for all pregnant women. In her article she asks the question, why would people want this? And answers herself by stating that she believes, "there is a fundamental societal misperception that the lives of people with intellectual disabilities have no value — that less able somehow equates to less worthy."

I have thought about this article all week and how it relates to the work that Belle, Molly and I are undertaking. Belle and I visited a facility this week that is completely designed to be accessible to all abilities and to assist in maximizing the strengths and skills of its clients. During the facility tour, our guide mentioned that one of the difficulties their clients face when moving to an apartment or a home after "graduation" is the fact that most buildings are not designed or built to be accessible for all. Basic needs such as wide frame doorways or a bathroom with roll-in shower must often be adapted or customized in existing structures to accommodate their needs.

I could relate to that. Just in the last three weeks, I have been to three public sporting facilities (Highland Charles Shulz Arena, Xcel Roy Wilkins Auditorium and the U's Ridder Arena) built with taxpayer dollars in the last ten years that respectively have missing, difficult to find, or broken push pads for the main entry doors. In addition, one of the Helping Paws volunteers was told by a security guard at the Xcel Center that she could not take her service dog in the elevator. If this frustrates us just in training these dogs, what must it be like for those who really need such access in order to go about their daily lives?

I deliberately shop at places that are easy to get in and out of without spending too much time in the mundane task of locating parking close by. For example, I consider the difficulty parking downtown a mental and physical barrier I choose to avoid. Our graduates don't have that choice, and more importantly, most places they go to are the equivalent of my "downtown" with physical and mental barriers facing them both within and outside the walls of their homes. The irony is that accommodations that allow access to all are also more user-friendly, more helpful to the able-bodied as well.

So how does the article I quoted at the beginning of this blog connect to the work we do as volunteers and foster homes for Helping Paws? To me, it means that the role we play as ambassadors and educators is critical to overcoming what Ms. Bauer calls that "fundamental societal misperception". With our work, we assist those with physical challenges use their talents and live their lives to the fullest of their capability. And hopefully, in the course of their doing so, they can eliminate that fundamental societal misperception for good. Less can mean more but only if we help each other make it so!


Anonymous said...

Good blog - I'm proud of you!

Speak(er) said...

Thanks, Anonymous!!