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October 5, 2013

Equality is an all-inclusive concept, however, far too many of us feel free to make exceptions at will. Why do we find it easy to believe that some people are equals while, at the same time, we are convinced that others are not? What do we base our assumptions on? What criteria do we use to compare ourselves to others? And how does it feel to realize that we are the ones not being treated as equals?

For equality to be real, it absolutely must apply to everyone - and that includes men, women and children with intellectual challenges. Every person, no matter what their IQ, cognitive function or mental acuity might be, must be accepted as a completely equal member of society. For true equality to exist, there can be no exceptions.

Equality is a profoundly important truth, and yet many are still not willing to recognize it. They are convinced that if a person is nonverbal, or has autism or Down syndrome or some other type of challenge they are less than equal. These people feel superior to those who need supports and services to live as independently as possible. They look down on individuals who require 24 hour care. They are quick to pass judgment on anyone who looks or acts differently than them. They are certain that the 3% of the population with developmental disabilities is not equal to the other 97%.

Believing that inequality is natural, and therefore acceptable, tears at the fabric of our culture. It provides an unjustifiable excuse to prevent people from reaching their potential. It makes their needs invisible to us. Thinking that inequality is a valid point of view allows us to rationalize why it is okay for individuals with great power to take advantage of those with less power. It becomes far too easy for society to neglect people who are vulnerable, because men and women without a voice are easier to ignore. It leads us on a downward spiral until we actually begin to believe that some lives are not worth as much as others.

Tragically, if we do not begin to endorse equality for all, we are doomed to repeat the past. A past filled with disrespect and abuse. A past that created unnecessary suffering and hardship. A past where so many were left behind. But that does not have to be our future - if we are willing to learn from our mistakes.

The belief that we are all equal is the highest ideal human beings can aspire to.

Equality has to be at the very core of our values because it increases the level of tolerance we have for others. It allows us to appreciate the fact that people can contribute to society no matter what their particular challenges might be. In essence, it makes the world a better place for all of us because it allows everyone to live with dignity.

Once we subscribe to the idea that all people are completely equal, we begin to stand up for their rights. We provide them with the range of assistance they need and deserve. We see them not as statistics but as people who deserve the opportunity to live and thrive. Believing in equality enriches our lives. It creates in us the desire to reach out to everyone regardless of their circumstances. It makes us want to take action immediately, and not wait. We realize that the injustice endured by others is something that cannot be tolerated. We develop a willingness to accept responsibility for the well-being of those who are vulnerable.

That is why our acceptance of equality is so critical. It recognizes the worth of every individual above and beyond anything else. It rejects bias and prejudice and replaces them with tolerance and inclusion. It allows people to be accepted for who they are - not for who we want them to be. Equality is the natural outcome when we practice diversity. It is the life affirming result of compassion. Embracing the concept of equality is a moral imperative because it inspires us to act in a positive and benevolent way which is vital in the fight against the injustice that too many people with developmental disabilities still face.

Equality allows society to understand that our perceived differences are nothing more than self-imposed illusions that have no basis in reality. It convinces us that judgments, made without the facts, are wrong and can divide us. It teaches us that trying to categorize human beings with convenient labels causes us to form unfair and inaccurate opinions of people we don’t really know. But most importantly, it clearly shows that it is our shared humanity that binds us together in this life.

Being considered “normal” is meaningless. Being considered equal is life changing.