Today we celebrate Memorial Day in the United States. It’s a day for us to remember those who gave the last full measure in service to their country. While this post concerns those actively serving, I thought it appropriate for today, nonetheless.
In Israel, service in the defense forces is compulsory. For decades, though, this compulsory service did not include those Israelis born with Down syndrome. However, since 2008, 31 men and women with Down syndrome have joined the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), with seven having completed their service, entitling them to the same benefits of any veteran.
One such soldier is Elad Gevandschnaider. In a ceremony marking the 65th Anniversary of the modern establishment of Israel, Elad was awarded the IDF’s Award of Excellence. Elad has medaled in Special Olympics events around the world, and was the first person with special needs to represent the Israel Tennis Centers in exhibition matches held in the United States.
Evan’s father says that Elad has become more “disciplined, confident, and sociable” through his inclusion in the tennis program. Inclusion in the IDF has seen similar results.
As, an officer put it, by including individuals with Down syndrome in Israel’s military service:
We are not doing them a favor. They make many contributions, and their parents also are very proud to see them in a normal framework. It’s also good for regular soldiers to work with the disabled.
Israel’s military experience exhibits the same results as inclusion efforts in other aspects of society: from the basic inclusion in the family home versus institutionalization, to inclusion in the classroom resulting in benefits for the peers without Down syndrome, to inclusion in the work force resulting in benefits to the work environment.
In science, something that is true is proven by experiments that can be repeated. The benefits of inclusion have been repeated countless times over in a variety of familial, educational, and societal experiments. One day, perhaps, this will not be seen as newsworthy or surprising, but rather for what it is: a tested truth that inclusion of individuals with Down syndrome benefits all who participate.