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The Beauty of Diversity

October 26, 2014

The world is now comprised of 7 billion human beings, each completely unique and different. This complex diversity of humanity is astonishingly beautiful. Each person contributes to life in his or her own way which allows individuals to work together to create a better society that benefits everyone. Our diversity makes us stronger because it adds compassion, acceptance and understanding to our existence.

Although the subject of diversity usually revolves around gender, age and ethnicity, there is another significant portion of the U.S. population that must be considered; these are individuals with disabilities. The diversity represented by this group is wide ranging. Whether their challenges are intellectual, physical or both, the people in this segment of our society literally define what it means to be human. People with disabilities make up the largest minority in America, and it is a minority that many of us will join at some point in our lives.

The numbers regarding disabilities, disorders and diseases are compelling.

The population of the United States is 318 million.

The government estimate of people in the U.S. who live with a disability is 56,700,000. That is about 18% of the population or almost 1 out of every 5 Americans. And as our society ages that percentage will increase.

Here is a breakdown of significant health challenges.

Hearing loss: 35,000,000

Vision loss: 20,600,000

Speech issues: 7,500,000

Survivors of traumatic brain injuries: 5,300,000

Dementia: 5,000,000 

Survivors of strokes: 4,000,000

Autism spectrum disorder: 3,500,000

Epilepsy: 3,000,000

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder: 3,000,000

Living with spinal cord injuries: 1,200,000

Cerebral palsy: 750,000

Down syndrome: 400,000

Multiple Sclerosis: 400,000

Fragile X syndrome: 100,000

Brain tumors diagnosed each year: 69,700

Parkinson’s disease diagnosed each year: 50,000

Even though there are tens of millions of citizens with some type of intellectual or physical challenge, there is still a tendency to discount, disregard or disrespect those that are perceived as being different. For some people diversity is a negative word used to promote the acceptance of those they would rather avoid. However, in the case of people with disabilities their presence is ubiquitous. It is the one minority that is prevalent everywhere on earth and its numbers are continually growing.

The refusal to accept the diversity that is all around us is based, in part, on the inexplicable belief that some lives are worth more than others. This disturbing view is held because of a need to feel superior at the expense of others. Although there is obviously no basis in fact for this misconception, it is perpetuated by those who cling to the illusion that there is some type of “normal” that should be used to arbitrarily judge everyone. However, that does not make sense. Everyone has a different opinion of what is normal, and since every human being on earth is unique, there is no such thing.

Diversity includes everyone without exception.

Diversity includes people in positions of power and people with intellectual challenges that the powerful have forgotten.

Diversity includes the people who are judgmental of those with disabilities and the people with disabilities that are unfairly judged.     

Diversity includes people who disrespect those they do not understand and the people who deserve to be respected for who they are.

Diversity includes people who use insensitive language to demean those they refuse to accept and the people who are the targets of that language who have the courage and character to forgive such ignorance.

Diversity includes people who believe that everyone should be held to a standard of their choosing and people who thoughtfully accept others without judgment.

Diversity includes people who are unhappy that they have to share this life with those they don’t understand and people who are happy to share their lives with everyone possible.

Diversity includes people who take their good health for granted and people who have courageously struggled with a serious health challenge all of their lives.

Diversity includes people who demand to be the center of attention at all times and people who must struggle to receive the inclusion they deserve.

Diversity includes people who refuse to believe in those with intellectual challenges and people with developmental disabilities who believe in themselves when no one else will.

Diversity includes people who look down on those they believe are beneath them and the people who look up to those who treat them with dignity.

Once we embrace diversity, we begin to interact with those we previously excluded. It allows us to realize that the humanity of a person who uses a walker to carefully navigate their world is not diminished because they will never run a marathon. We appreciate that the humanity of a woman with a developmental disability is not lessened because she lives in a group home instead of an expensive condominium. We understand that the humanity of a middle-aged man with Down syndrome who will never drive a car is not tempered because he requires assistance to cross a busy street. Embracing diversity allows us to accept people without judging them. No one is required to live up to another person’s expectations.

Specifically, when we accept the diversity represented by those with disabilities we see the world in a new way. It gives us an awareness of the challenges that others live with, which makes us more tolerant. When we realize that we are all sharing the human experience together as equals there is no longer a need to dominate or intimidate. Quite the opposite is true. It leads to understanding and acceptance, which negates the need to feel superior to others. We become more understanding, forgiving and compassionate.

The acceptance of diversity also opens up communication within all areas of society, instead of just for those with privilege and prestige. It gives equal power to every person and every group. It allows us to acknowledge others no matter what their circumstances might be. It gives us an appreciation for the uniqueness of each individual and their respective skills and talents. For people with disabilities, who for decades were marginalized and excluded from the mainstream, the acceptance of diversity is liberating in the sense that they are finally accepted into society with the same rights as other people.

Diversity strengthens our culture by promoting tolerance and inclusion for all. We become better people when we reach out to everyone and accept them for who they are. It provides us with the wisdom to see past our superficial differences, and it shows us that at our core we are all the same. Acknowledging the reality of diversity and rejecting the illusion of “different” is critical in the effort to engage those with intellectual or physical challenges as human beings deserving of understanding and complete acceptance.

By embracing the beauty of diversity, we allow individuals to be themselves. We lift the constraints of narrow-minded assumptions and misconceptions that can prevent people from reaching their full potential. In the case of those with disabilities, it helps us focus on their skills and talents instead of dwelling on their challenges. The acceptance of diversity is naturally inclusive because it provides everyone with opportunities to contribute in meaningful ways that allows all of society to enjoy the rewards of their efforts. Those with intellectual and physical challenges are seen as equals with the same rights as any citizen. Supporting diversity in our communities empowers each of us, which is why our individuality should always be embraced and never feared.     

The world will become a far more compassionate place for people with all types of disabilities when humanity understands that diversity is just another word for equality.