One of the most common questions I have received since I took on my new role as Executive Director of the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Winston-Salem is: do you have a child with Down syndrome? When I say “no,” I’m then asked if I have a relative. It isn’t common for a regular Joe (Jay in my case) to leave their successful career in another field to take on a role of fighting for individuals with developmental disabilities and their rights to be included in society.
Inclusion means that all people, regardless of their gender, race, abilities, and disabilities have the right to be appreciated as valuable members of their communities.
Parents and family members of individuals with Down syndrome know way better than I ever will know what it’s like to raise a child with Down syndrome. We know they will fight for inclusion with all of their hearts. Politicians and the media will help with the fight for inclusion if it is timely and helps their cause. I don’t think our society will truly be inclusive until we have Regular Joe’s and Jane’s start to actively engage themselves in making our communities more inclusive for all.
Fighting for inclusion as a regular Joe/Jane doesn’t mean that you have to take a job at a non-profit like I did. Get involved with a local organization as a volunteer or a donor. If you are a parent, teach your kids to play with people of all abilities from a young age. If you are an employer, hire an individual with developmental disabilities to your staff.
Pictures of individuals with Down syndrome as models for big organizations are great and really help the cause. Yet, we need to strive for a world where these pictures aren’t just viral, they are common.
Until the day that it is frequent for regular Joe’s/Jane’s to be involved in supporting and fighting for individuals with developmental disabilities, our world will not truly be inclusive. I strive for the day when this regular Jay is no longer asked if I work for a Down syndrome organization because I have a family member with Down syndrome. In an inclusive society it shouldn’t matter.