Friday, August 14, 2009


I posted a while back (and I'm a little too lazy to search for it) about how, in my lifetime, there has been an increasing trend to mainstream children who are handicapped in one way or another. While not every child can be accommodated in a regular school classroom, I think it's a positive step forward to make sure the children are incorporated into the daily routine of everyone. Because I think familiarity breeds content, not contempt, in the case of knowing people who are more "other" than one is used to.

The previous post was prompted by a high school in Arizona electing a homecoming queen with Down's Syndrome. Parents who have handicapped children go through a grieving period when they find out because they know their child will be limited in what they can achieve and do. And since one of those things is often "achieve high social status", it's especially touching to see exceptions. And as there are more exceptions, they will be come less exceptional and I consider that a good thing.

With the news coverage of Eunice Kennedy Shriver this week, I'm starting to wonder just how much of this "mainstreaming" is because of her, and it's looking like most of it. Because back in the day (and still now in many countries), handicapped members were a source of shame who were hidden away from the world. While we haven't totally overcome that taboo, great strides have been made. And largely it seems they were made because the presidents sister came out and said something like, "I love my handicapped sister and I want her to be able to live in society and fulfil her potential. There's no shame in her existence and we all love her very much. It's best for her and best for our family and best for our community if we incorporate our beloved family member into our lives rather than keeping her tucked away and limiting her even further than nature has done already."

And from that foundation, has come a generation of progress. My irreverent self sees the most noteable thing being the improvement in haircuts for kids with Down's syndrome. Used to be you could tell who they were by the haircut alone. Not so much anymore. Turns out one symptom of DS is very fast growing hair. Who knew? Well, I do and now you do because a friend from chorus was able to tell me about her daughter and why hairstyling was challenging. There are all sorts of educational and social improvements leading to improved outcomes for people that couldn't, or worse wouldn't, be helped at all a generation or two ago. I don't delude myself that we've achieved perfection, but we're maintaining forward progress in allowing more and more handicapped adults to live with dignity and hold a postitive place in their respective communities. (Now that I think of it, this has been happening with women and other minorities as well. How much is it all tied together?)

Growing up, we had some bright red winter coats in the closet with the Special Olympics logo on the chest. I had no idea until this week that the concept was brand new as of a few years before I was born. For all my life, there have been Special Olympics; it has just been a given. In all groups of people, there are some who love to compete and get public recognition for their accomplishments, and providing a forum for that for people who can't succeed without intervention, is the sensible, humane thing to do. And we do it because one strong woman with vision and compassion. Go with God, Eunice.

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