DEI Committee

Diversity Equality Inclusion - December 10, 2021

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

by Elizabeth Whitehouse

International Day of Persons with Disabilities is observed each year on December 3. Its purpose is to promote an understanding of disability issues and to show support for the rights and well-being of those with disabilities. It is a day to bring awareness to those with disabilities and their integration in everyday life—socially, economically, politically and culturally. While the actual day has passed, I wanted to bring two thoughts to the forefront of your mind; the concept of ‘Person First’ and that not all disabilities are visible.

When you hear people say ‘Person First’, this may seem a simple concept: the person comes before the disability. However, thinking back throughout the years, can you think of a time when you or someone you know described someone with a disability as autistic, dyslexic, handicapped, etc.? When you say, “Did you know that John Smith is autistic?” you are identifying John as solely autistic, but really, he has autism and there is so much more to him than his diagnosis.

Disabilities do not define individuals; it is just one part of them. John Smith could be an engineer or even an artist. He could have a variety of skills that, unfortunately, are overshadowed by someone just stating he is autistic. Changing the phrase from ‘John is autistic’ to ‘John has autism’ opens up the possibility for his peers to get to know him for who he is, not for his disability.

We often assume that if someone has a disability, it must be visible. It is important to understand that not all disabilities can be seen with our eyes. A person with dyslexia or ADHD, or a person who is deaf and hard of hearing—they do not have physical markers that indicate they have a disability. Many mental health issues are not visible. Be sensitive and aware that your co-workers, neighbors and friends might be fighting an invisible battle on a daily basis.

My very first job was working with older adults with disabilities. I learned that there was so much depth and kindness in each adult I worked with. I began to see past their diagnosis or disability and became passionate about making them smile. Although I could not physically see or understand many of the challenges they faced from day to day, I knew my love and support made a difference in their quality of life. If I had solely focused on their disability, I would have missed the beautiful moments that helped me to see them as human beings first.

I bring these ideas to you as we observe International Day of Persons with Disabilities. I challenge you to go forward with a fresh, inclusive perspective and an open mind. Each one of us is unique and complex. We are not defined by a diagnosis. I encourage you to see the world differently, through the eyes of others, so that we can embrace our differences and each other.

About the Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI) Committee: We are a group of staff and residents who together serve a mission to educate, embrace and empower a workplace of diversity, equality and inclusion. Our vision is to seek open and honest communication and collaboration that will inform and celebrate the cultural, ethnic and sexual orientation of all members of our staff without bias.

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