Erecting and tearing down barriers to inclusion

Between attending the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine annual conference one week, celebrating my son’s birthday the next, and now preparing to attend the Down Syndrome Affiliates in Action conference, I have a backlog of news headlines I’ve been meaning to share. Here are some on how measures large and small can impact and include those with Down syndrome and other disabilities:

Christopher Hart of Hyde Park found his way blocked by a wall of snow Thursday. (Matthew J. Lee/ Globe Staff)

Christopher Hart of Hyde Park found his way blocked by a wall of snow Thursday. (Matthew J. Lee/ Globe Staff)

  • I’ve written about the concept known as “structural violence,” where the basic structure of society effects violence on a minority. Most Americans have been experiencing one of the worst winters in recent memory. As we go about our day, we are aware of the hazards posed by slick roads and pavement. But, how many of us have noticed the graded entries and exits to sidewalks and entryways blocked by snow and appreciated that as another obstacle for our fellow citizens with mobility differences? The picture at right from the Boston Globe encapsulates just the ignorance we have on how something as simple as properly removing snow can make life that much harder for our neighbors.
  • In a countermeasure to structural violence, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was inspired to announce a new initiative to increase employment and the quality of employment for individuals with disabilities after meeting Andrew Young, a young man with Down syndrome, who excelled at his job:

The governor plans to highlight employers and organizations that help people with disabilities find work, in part by talking about the issue during stump speeches around the state. He also is ordering state agencies to focus on building, recognizing and promoting public and private programs and organizations that improve employment opportunities for those workers.

  •  Mount St. Mary’s University provides training to Frederick County deputies on how to interact with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in the wake of the death last year of Ethan Saylor at the hands of Frederick County off-duty police officers. While the training emphasizes all individuals, including those with I/DD can be culpable of criminal acts, the instructor applies the universality principle to dealing with individuals with I/DD:

Powell, who at times also conducts the training, said he often gives this simple advice: If it were my child, how would I respond?

  • President Obama removes a long-time barrier to quality employment. In the State of the Union he announced his commitment to raising the minimum wage and said he would implement that through his authority over federal contracts. But, initially, the measure would not have changed the ability of employers to pay those with disabilities sub-minimum wage rates. Advocates called for full inclusion, and President Obama responded by including workers with disabilities within the executive order requiring payment of the increased minimum wage to all employees under federal contracts:

“Under current law, workers whose productivity is affected because of their disabilities may be paid less than the wage paid to others doing the same job under certain specialized certificate programs,” according to a White House memo detailing the order. “Under this Executive Order, all individuals working under service or concessions contracts with the federal government will be covered by the same $10.10 per hour minimum wage protections.”

  • Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers gave the Republican response to the State of the Union, recalling how when her doctors delivered the diagnosis that her son had Down syndrome, all they shared were the negatives. Amy Julia Becker calls on members from all political leanings to instead see reasons why families of all political persuasions welcome a child with Down syndrome, and perhaps how that may increase inclusion of these individuals throughout society. (And, thanks to Amy Julia for the link to this blog in her column).

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