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Dignity and Respect

February 9, 2014

The life of a person with a developmental disability is filled with challenges that most members of society will never be forced to deal with. Things we take for granted such as inclusion and acceptance are rights that they are often forced to struggle for. While most of us have the automatic expectation that we will be treated fairly and justly, individuals with intellectual challenges sometimes face a different reality.

Every person deserves to be treated the same, but that doesn’t always occur. A lack of thoughtfulness and consideration for those who might have difficulty speaking up for themselves can lead us to discount their wants, needs and desires. When we look past someone with a developmental disability, without acknowledging them as a person, we are showing disrespect. When we do not provide complete inclusion so that they can participate fully in society we are denying them the dignity they deserve.

Unfortunately, if people with intellectual challenges are not respected there is the chance they will lose respect for themselves. After all, if others think they are unworthy than they might start to believe it as well. Even though these judgments have no basis in truth they can lead to a loss of personal dignity if the individual is convinced by other people that their life is not as worthwhile because they have a particular issue. That is why it is crucial to treat every person with the respect they deserve.

But sadly, people with developmental disabilities are still sometimes denied their dignity by uncaring or insensitive people. That type of behavior simply cannot be tolerated. When someone, for whatever reason, is unable to speak up for themselves or to defend themselves we must intercede to make certain they are treated exactly the way we would want to be treated. To stand by and not take action makes us part of the problem. Indifference is just as wrong as the disrespect shown by one person for another.

It becomes readily apparent how important it is to preserve the dignity of everyone when we realize that at some point in our lives each of us is going to become vulnerable. It could occur for any number of reasons, but no matter what the cause we will expect to be treated with respect because we believe that is our right in a free society. Therefore we cannot ignore individuals with developmental disabilities who are presently vulnerable because they have difficulty expressing themselves or because they are not able to fully understand their right to equal treatment. The fact that person cannot ask for, or demand, dignity and respect does not mean they don’t deserve them, and it certainly does not give us the right to deny them.

We have a responsibility to ensure that dignity and respect are never based on personal wealth or privilege. They must not be contingent on power or prestige. They cannot be the result of personality or popularity. They are deserved simply for being a human being. And because the experience of life is shared equally, there can be no distinction in the importance of people who do not have intellectual challenges and those who do. A person deserves respect no matter what stage of life they are in or what is happening to them at any particular moment. That is why it is critical that people are allowed to maintain their dignity whether they occasionally need assistance or if they are completely dependent on others for support or care.

Please take a moment and think about the people you respect. Chances are they are the kind of individuals who accept everyone as equals. In a sense they are respected because that is how they treat others. By the same token, those who are disrespectful to people are unlikely to be well respected themselves. They are denied the very thing they deny to fellow human beings. Having dignity and respect is a two way street. It is difficult to get them if you refuse to give them, and since they go hand in hand it is almost impossible to have one without the other.

Because people with developmental disabilities are equal members of society, they too deserve complete respect and personal dignity. Every person has the right to live their life the best way they can. No matter what challenges an individual might face, we show them respect by allowing them to make as many decisions as they can, and by letting them have as much control over their own lives as possible. We honor their dignity by providing them with opportunity and the resources to be successful. There can be absolutely no exceptions to these fundamental rights.

When we treat a person with an intellectual challenge with dignity and respect, we are acknowledging their worth as a human being. We are letting them know they are valued and that we care about them. We make it clear that their efforts and contributions are appreciated and important. We step away from judgment and instead accept that person for who they are. This not only benefits them personally it also improves humanity as a whole. It increases tolerance and compassion. It promotes understanding which allows us to look past perceived differences and helps us to realize that we are all the same.

Every person has a profound need for dignity and respect. They are necessary requirements to a fulfilling life. Without them society cannot flourish because, as a people, we cannot sustain progress if some are left behind.