(Published in The Newberry Observer on Sept. 3, 2014)

What would you do if you didn’t have your main group of friends? What if your club or group were taken away from you and suddenly your circle of associates was cut down? The emotions you would feel are what people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) feel when they are excluded and left out in the dark. This is how they have been feeling for years.

People are not meant to live life alone and those with I/DD definitely need companions and friends to hang out with and share interests with. Studies have discovered that social isolation can lead to illnesses, disease and even death. Being ignored causes the same chemical reaction in the brain as physical injury.

Institutions are slowly fading out allowing for the opportunity for communities and neighborhoods to embrace people with I/DD and help them live in homes, find jobs and be involved in the community. We need to focus on inclusion and rid ourselves of the idea of placing people with some form of disability into a warehouse and telling them to work on a menial project breeding frustration, despair and isolation.

Thankfully, the Civil Rights Division enforced the Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C. in 2009. This requires states to eliminate unnecessary segregation of people with disabilities and also to make sure they receive integrated services appropriate for their needs.

According to an article in Bloom, 13 states plus Washington, D.C. have closed their institutions. It’s necessary for the message of inclusion to be recognized as urgent.

How would you feel if you were shoved into a large room and told to sit and work on a simplistic project for eight hours a day? Undermined? Unappreciated? No one should not be made to feel this way. It’s important to understand that as traditional institutions are faded out, other organizations will continue to step up and support people with lifelong disabilities. For instance, The Arc of the Midlands (as well as The Arc and all of its chapters) advocates and serves all people with I/DD. Social inclusion is a top priority.

Isn’t it time we moved away from shutting people with disabilities from being included in our communities? If we involve people with I/DD with people who would be able to challenge them in learning and growing, don’t you think there are valuable lessons to be learned from both sides?

Disability Scoop published an article regarding a study about preschoolers who had either autism, language impairment or Down Syndrome. Over a year, preschoolers with a disability who were put in a mainstream classroom with other highly-skilled peers were on par. On the other hand, preschoolers with a disability who were surrounded with peers with weaker skills remained behind.

Another positive note was found that students with high comprehension levels did not fall behind and their skills were not diminished. If the inclusion starts early, don’t you think people with a form of disability will only be strengthened as they move along?

Let’s make more of an effort to involve people with disabilities in our workplaces, neighborhoods, associations and recreational activities. It’s time for a change. Will you join us in a COMMUNITY STRONG mission?