In a world that has been consistently and admirably trying to better itself for people with disabilities, the knowledge among the general population about intellectual and developmental disabilities is still remarkably limited. For those who are relatively new to these terms, here is a quick overview. “Developmental disabilities” is a term that collectively encompasses all kinds of physical and mental disabilities, including Downs Syndrome, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, autism and all kinds of degenerative neurological diseases. “Intellectual Disabilities,” also often referred by an older and now unofficial term, “Mental Retardation” is simply a branch of developmental disabilities and is scientifically defined as having an IQ score lower than 70. It can range from a mild learning or speech disorder to a more severe diagnosis such as Autism, Williams syndrome or Fragile X syndrome.
History has been particularly unkind towards disabled people and stories of their harsh and often tortuous treatment will shock even the toughest of readers. For centuries, developmental disabilities were looked down upon as a social stigma, or worse, an unacceptable and repulsive disease. While the world today is far more understanding of disabled people, such people still find themselves having to face several barriers and obstructions on the path to freedom and respect. In spite of several difficulties, our generation has been witness to some great personalities who have, with their strength and determination, overcome their developmental disability and created extraordinary lives for themselves. Perhaps the greatest scientist of all time, Stephen Hawking, was diagnosed with a degenerative neurological disease called ALS at a very young age. Actors Charles Burke, Warwick Davis and Tom Cruise have had to overcome their developmental disabilities on their path to success and so did some celebrated artists such as Walt Disney and Frida Kahlo.
Transcendent singer Susan Boyle suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome and she had once said about her struggles, “I want to turn my disability into an ability.”
As we have learnt from these iron-willed personalities, nothing is impossible, and there is no reason for a developmental disability to hold anyone back. It may make life seem unfairly difficult, but several organizations exist today that try to provide the support and encouragement such people require turning their disabilities into abilities. Every person should be able to live life fully, if not extraordinarily, and we all deserve to live with a certain degree of freedom and respect. Dignity is is not impossible, even for the developmentally disabled, and the world today is striving hard to raise the standards of living for such people. Organizations for the betterment of the developmentally disabled include experts or simply ordinary people who wish to make a difference in the world. Organizations and individual employees are dedicated to creating a better world for the people of different abilities. People equipped with the necessary knowledge, awareness and training, work towards creating an environment that help empower others.
Bobby Harris is a driven, experienced and knowledgeable professional within areas such as healthcare, childhood education,abuse intervention and crisis prevention; organizational leadership and intellectual / developmental disabilities.