Things To Know During Disability Awareness Month

Samantha Ruiz, Reporter

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   March is Disability Awareness Month. Disability Awareness Month has been celebrated in history for 28 years, ever since starting in 1987 when Ronald Reagan declared March National Disability Awareness Month.  The Intensive Needs class sold t-shirts for $15, made posters for people to pledge to stop using the r-word, and more. The t-shirts are sold every year as a way to raise money for instructional needs and activities such as friendship walks (which the Best Buddies club participates in), and the “Disabilities Prom” that will take place in April. Melissa Diekelmann, the Intensive Needs teacher, works with kids of all disabilities such as Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, language impairments, and hearing impairments.

   What Diekelmann likes most about working with her kids is how much of a different outlook they have on life from everyone else. “They have the same problems in life as everyone else, and they don’t let their disabilities get the better of them.” Diekelmann said.

   What are these disabilities? Why are they important? Autism is a developmental disorder identified by difficulties with social interactions and communication, as well as restricted and repetitive behaviors. Some examples of these behaviors include, but are not limited to, banging one’s head repeatedly, stacking things in a tower and unstacking them. There are also bodily movements such as hand flapping, rocking, and biting. Some cases have sensitivity to noises such as screaming, the sound of balloons popping and the helium in them being released. The way that these things can be relieved a small bit is wearing headphones. People also can learn to control volume around kids like this, just to be on the safe side.   As of 2018, 1 in 58 children are affected by autism.

   Cerebral Palsy (also known as CP) is a group of permanent movement disorders that appear in early childhood. There is many different types. One type, which is the most common case, is a form of spastic cerebral palsy, spastic diplegia, which is the tightness, or stiffness, of the legs, hips, and pelvis. Another type is Ataxic CP, which involves damage to the cerebellum, the part of the brain essential to mobility. Sound sensitivity can also occur in some cases of CP because when people are around loud noises, such as the balloon popping earlier, their muscles can tense up. According to, population-based studies around the world say that more than 4 per every 1,000 child-births has a child affected by CP. National CP Awareness day is March 25th.

   Down Syndrome, (also known as down’s, down’s syndrome, DS, or DNS), is a genetic disorder caused by a third copy of chromosome 21, which is one of the 23 pairs of chromosomes in humans. Symptoms, effects, results, and complications including physical growth delays and mild-moderate intellectual disabilities. The average IQ of young adults with DS is 50, equal to that of an eight to nine year old child, although this varies from case to case. There is a World Down Syndrome Day, which was first celebrated March 21st, 2006.

   Speech and language impairment are categories that classify as issues with communication, which involves: hearing, speech, language, and fluency. A speech disability is characterized by difficulty in articulation of words, like stuttering. Language impairments consist of difficulty in understanding, sharing thoughts/ideas. Some problems that may occur with this are grammar, how words are formed, and sentence structure. An individual can have one or both of these impairments, which are identified by a speech therapist.

   Ableism is discrimination in favor of able-bodied people. “I’m not treated differently myself,” junior Angelo Kimbrough says, “Everyone I hang out with doesn’t see me as disabled, they treat me like one of them. As for people who bully the disabled, they’re cowards.”  Ableism is a societal happening, based on how other people perceive the disabled. Some examples of ableist behaviors said or done are:  taking up crowded elevator spaces instead of using the stairs, not leaving space for the ones that have no other choice, failing to provide accessibility beyond wheelchair ramps, and using handicapped bathrooms when not needed.  While yes, it is important for people with wheelchairs to be able to get somewhere without taking the stairs, there should be more accessibility tools such as translators, braille, handicapped bathrooms, etc.

   Using the r-word, something that upsets Diekelman, is something that has undeniably become natural in people’s word choices. People tend to defend themselves when it comes to being called out by calling people “too sensitive” when it does in fact hurt the person that they’re calling the r-word or insane, crazy, etc. They start feeling like they’re not good enough or that nobody cares about them. Some disabled people cannot get jobs, get fired from jobs they do have, and even aren’t allowed in some public places.

   This Disability Awareness Month, please, take time to say something nice to one of the kids in the Intensive Needs class, help them if they need help, do something to show support.