As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am the father of a 10-year-old Son with Down syndrome. Among the challenges of raising a child with intellectual disabilities comes, in my opinion, subtle attempts by others to discriminate and segregate. This is especially true within an educational environment where inclusion is involved. While specific laws establish basic rights and protections against educational discrimination, these same laws do not protect us special needs parents against negative and stereotypical attitudes and resistance towards teaching our special needs children. Such attitudes often lead parents into warfare with faculty and school districts. At times, they can escalate into serious legal action.
Issues of discrimination and segregation against African-Americans have unfortunately been a part of our history for decades. Fortunately, however, blacks had a powerful voice and leader. His name was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK). King’s mission was to fight for the civil rights of his people. He accomplished that until his young life was taken in 1968. His protests and speeches changed attitudes and behavior and influenced the creation of civil rights legislation. African-Americans are far better off today because he walked the earth and spoke out against injustice.
So who’s going to be our MLK? Who’s going to be our national voice for persons with intellectual disabilities? While many have dismissed Sarah Palin as a political hopeful and leader (including many parents with Downs children), she is the mother of a child with Down syndrome who has become a powerful presence on the political stage and has built a strong national following. When it’s her turn to personally experience the same issues many of us special needs parents are suffering, I believe she will speak out and push for more meaningful legislation. Make no mistake about it. When Sarah Palin speaks, people will listen.
My wife and I have attended many events where we have listened to articulate persons with Down syndrome speak. Their testimonies are inspiring and hopeful. Many ambassadors (most notably the late Eunice Kennedy Shriver) have toured the county and shared their stories as well. National organizations have been established that extend their influence into Washington DC. Our country has made tremendous strides in the last 30 to 40 years in understanding, respecting and including persons with intellectual disabilities in society. But let’s not kid ourselves, we have a long way to go. I believe we still need someone with a louder voice who will take it to the next level.
Who is that going to be? Who’s going to be our MLK?