I have the undeserved luxury of having everything accessible and catered to my abilities. I can be certain that I will always get a seat on public transportation, and go to a movie theaters without worrying about whether or not there is personal captioning device available. I can go to a job interview confident that the people interviewing me will not pity my abilities, and nobody has ever second-guessed my capabilities due to the way I look. I am always treated as my age and given the respect that I deserve.
It is a privilege to go about life without the challenges that people with developmental disabilities face on a daily basis. And yet the reality is that this is only "normal" to those of us who live without a disability, but for over 2,000 Whatcom county residents "normal" looks entirely different. People in our community are called names regularly, they work hard, but get paid less, and they have been turned away from services provided to the general public. Though we have come far from the days of segregated schools, there is still much work to do to bring greater equality to those living with disabilities.
While I recognize that we can't simply flip a switch and have an entirely inclusive community overnight, I do believe that with time and commitment our community has the ability to move toward a more inclusive future. Starting small can have a big impact. One way to start practicing inclusion is by adopting a "people-first language" and reminding those around us to do the same. What this means is putting the person before the disability, and most importantly eliminating prejudicial and hurtful descriptors all together. This type of change is what can help start a movement toward inclusion. Imagine a community where all local businesses required that their place of work adopt people-first language. I can guarantee that my friends with disabilities would feel more welcomed, respected and would be prideful in being a customer in such an inclusive environment.
On a larger scale, there are plenty of other ways to make our community more inclusive to those with disabilities. Do you work or frequent a local restaurant? If they're not already available, consider offering visual menus available for those who may not be able to read. Throwing a community event in the near future? Take time to develop ways to include and accommodate people with disabilities at your event!
It is estimated that there are 2,340 residents of Whatcom County living with a developmental disability. I have the privilege of being friends with over 100 of these people through my work at Max Higbee Center, a local recreation center for teens and adults with developmental disabilities. Max Higbee Center works every day to do our best to fill a void in services, and we can promise that each person who walks through our doors will be accepted and celebrated for the individual that they are. Recreation and socialization are a human right, and it's our mission to make sure that people with disabilities have access to enriching leisure activities on a daily basis. Currently we offer four different programs, with a fifth set to launch early this summer, and each of our activities are intentionally picked to promote both physical and social wellness for each of our members. Our programs operate six days a week, filled to the brim with activities that strive to meet the ability level and varied interests of each person.
As a whole, Whatcom County is doing pretty good. But we can do better. Change is something that can't be measured, it's not big or small; change is simply change. My hope is that each of us in Whatcom County will do our part to evoke change toward a more inclusive community for all ability levels. Celebrate difference, embrace individuality, and welcome everyone!
More than 40 breweries will be offering beer tastings at April Brews Day in support of the Max Higbee Center. The event is 6:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday, April 26, at Depot Market Square, 1100 Railroad Ave. Tickets are $20 advance, $25 at the door until capacity reached. VIP admission, $40 advance purchase only, begins at 5:30 p.m.
Boundary Bay Brewery, 1107 Railroad Ave., will host a more family-friendly event, Brews Day Brunch for $10, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, April 27.
For more information call 360-733-1828, email email@example.com or go online to maxhigbee.org.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hallie Hemmingsen is executive director of the Max Higbee Center. For more information online, go to maxhigbee.org.