I believe that all people have equal intrinsic value and that the world is a better place when people of all abilities are celebrated and respected for their unique contributions.
8 years ago, my son Alejandro was born with Down syndrome – the most common, naturally-occurring genetic disorder in humans – caused by an extra 21st chromosome. My son is a beautiful boy with almond-shaped eyes and chubby little fingers. He beams infectuously when he is proud of something that he has accomplished, like walking at 25 months or potty training at 7 1/2. That some things come harder makes every success a greater joy.
Like many parents who learn that their child has a disability, I was surprised that my son wasn’t what I expected. But I have come to see that the differences between my child and his brother Joaquin and sister Isabella are subtle, that they are more alike than different – they all want to be loved, to be happy, to work and play, and dream. Although Alejandro can’t keep up with the kids in Little League, he can shine in Special Olympics, though he won’t be the class valedictorian, he can learn to read, ride a bike and have a career, just like everyone else. He can also be a friend, a teammate and a hero by living every day to the best of his abilities and touching other lives.
I believe that my son has a role to play in the world and that he should be seen for what he can contribute, not for what he can’t do. I believe that he is not a mistake but a blessing who makes my world and the world of all those who are lucky enough to know him a better place. I believe that a diverse society must include him.
Unfortunately, I know from the comments people make when they hear that my son has Down syndrome (I’m sorry. That’s terrible) and from the 90% abortion rate of fetuses with Down syndrome when parents receive this pre-natal diagnosis, that not everyone sees the lives of other people with disabilities as a gift, that they mistakenly think people with disabilities are a burden. This is made worse by the use of the ‘R’ word – “retarded” – in jokes and movies, making fun of people with disabilities. It sends the message to people with disabilities that you are not welcome, that you should play learn and live away from the rest of us and so I believe the time has come to stop using the R word.
I truly believe we must all open our hearts and lend a hand to those who need one and listen to those who have been ignored and work each day to make our society and our world a place that values true diversity and the treasure that each one of us is.
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