As people drive past our building each day it is impossible to get a true sense of what is going on inside our 42,000 sq. ft. facility. That leaves the general public with a natural curiosity about what kind of organization we are and exactly what it is we do.
The Meadows can be considered in two ways. First, we are a business offering a wide range of services to a statewide customer base. Second, and far more importantly, we provide employment and vocational training to adults with intellectual and physical challenges.
Unfortunately, people sometimes have preconceived ideas about individuals with disabilities including the belief that they cannot work. However, they are quick to change their minds when they meet our employees.
Customers are invited into our facility to witness their material being shredded. For many of them, it is their first exposure to adults with disabilities.
Without fail they are always impressed by how conscientious and efficient our employees are as they do their jobs while dealing with a wide range of challenges.
When the public sees their enthusiasm, work ethic, and positive attitude, they realize that these men and women deserve respect for developing their skills and abilities.
Additionally, every weekday, eight to ten of our employees go into the community on our company trucks to pick up paper and other material to be shredded. They spend the day interacting with all types of people in every kind of setting. It is another opportunity for those without disabilities to see that our differences are insignificant compared to what we have in common.
Established customers look forward to our workers visiting their businesses to pick up their bins of paper. They enjoy seeing what individuals with intellectual challenges can accomplish when they are given the opportunity they deserve.
In fact, once they have seen how our employees work, many of our customers choose to use our services exclusively because they believe in our mission. They begin to share our goal of ensuring successful employment for people who would otherwise be left out of the job market.
That kind of interaction benefits everyone because it’s through experience that we discover how connected we really are.
When the public realizes that men and women with intellectual and physical challenges can be a vital part of the workforce and contribute to the greater good, it leads to the understanding that every person deserves the opportunity to have a job. The fact that they might need supports and adaptations to make their employment successful, in no way makes their efforts less meaningful.
When the public gets to see that adults with disabilities can be employed and be productive citizens, it changes their point of view. It expands their perception of what these individuals can achieve.
It is often quite surprising to people when they first see the quality of work that our employees produce. It is a moment that alters previously held beliefs. The realization that adults with challenges are able to perform complicated tasks that were once considered impossible, creates a positive impression that replaces the misconceptions of the past.
When a person with a developmental disability has a job, it gives them a purpose and daily goals to focus on. It makes them feel like they’re part of the community and that they are contributing. It creates a sense of accomplishment, and it builds self-confidence that can lead them to attempt even more in their life than was once thought possible.
We consider it an important part of our mission to ensure that the public has the opportunity to learn about and appreciate the capabilities of men and women with intellectual and physical challenges.
Each one of us believes that our life is important. But, unfortunately, our fixation with our own significance can sometimes lead us to presume that other lives don’t matter as much as ours. We often fall into the trap of believing that we are superior and, therefore, by default, others are inferior.
That type of thinking leads to a substantial amount of the misery experienced by the human race.
At the Meadows, we do everything in our power to fight this kind of attitude. We know that every life has equal meaning. Gender, ethnicity, age, and disability play no part in determining the value of a person.
Every day, we witness firsthand what men and women living with a wide range of intellectual and physical challenges can accomplish when they are given the opportunities they deserve.
Throughout their lives, these adults have had to deal with the harmful misconception that their lives mattered less. Even now, society does not always embrace the diversity that is represented by people with disabilities.
That is unjust and unfair.
People who live with intellectual challenges are complete human beings. They are not just a diagnosis used to conveniently label them.
They are also sons or daughters, brothers or sisters, aunts, uncles or cousins. They are church members, students, neighbors, employees, friends, and citizens. They are people with hopes and dreams. They want to be appreciated. They deserve respect.
Just like you and me, these individuals are doing the best they can to build a life that they find rewarding and fulfilling.
But frequently the biggest stumbling block they face is the narrowmindedness of others.
Through no fault of their own, people with intellectual challenges are often prejudged and assumed to have issues that do not allow them to be considered equal members of society. That is a painful loss for everyone because what is sometimes perceived as differences actually show just how much we are all alike.
*A person may use a walker or a wheelchair, but their mobility matters just as much to them as someone who is physically graceful.
* A person may need to wear functional clothing because of physical challenges, but their appearance is just as acceptable as someone who wears designer labels.
* A person may have communication issues, but they have the right to have their thoughts understood just like someone who is fluent.
* A person may use public transportation, but their destination means just as much to them as it does to someone who drives a luxury car.
* A person may live in a group home, but having a residence is just as important to them as it is to someone who lives in a gated community.
These examples apply to the men and women we employ at the Meadows. But the fact that they make certain adaptions in their lives does not make them less. It just makes them like everyone else because we all have limitations.
Every one of us has certain areas of life we excel at and other areas that will always remain beyond our capabilities. However, that does not diminish our worth as a person.
It is the same for people with intellectual challenges. They can achieve certain goals while others are out of reach, but that does not mean we should focus exclusively on what they can or cannot accomplish. They should always be considered in terms of their humanity.
All of society benefits when we realize that each life has the same value. When we understand that every person deserves to be treated with dignity, whether they have a disability or not, we take a giant step forward in accepting all of our citizens without reservation.
There can be no progress made in our world if some are left behind. Our organization does everything possible to provide meaningful work for people who are wrongly assumed to be unemployable.
At the Meadows, we believe that every life matters.
There are no exceptions.
Our jobs play an important role in each of our lives. In many ways, they help to define us. For some, it means having the ability to provide for their families. For others, it is a lifelong commitment to a meaningful career. But no matter what the circumstances, our jobs occupy a significant portion of our time.
Every weekday morning, forty-seven men and women come to work at the Meadows. They range in age from twenty-one to seventy-three, and they come from every walk of life. But the one thing they all have in common is the fact that they each have some type of intellectual challenge.
For most of these individuals, being employed was a long-term goal - but not a certainty.
That is why their job is so important to them. They remember the years of hard work and effort that was required to realize their dream. To be rewarded with the opportunity to reach their potential means everything to them.
But it is important to understand that being employed benefits them in more ways than just receiving financial compensation.
Their job keeps them physically strong and mentally active. They don’t spend their time sitting in front of a TV. They are engaged with life. They are up and moving. They are testing themselves and finding that they can do much more than was once believed.
Having a job gives their life structure and discipline. It provides them with valuable experience and a sense of purpose. Day by day they build self-esteem and self-confidence. As they experience success, it creates a feeling of accomplishment. The pride they feel for earning a paycheck is well deserved.
Once they begin working at our facility it is a never-ending opportunity to learn. Our employees develop both vocational and social skills. They discover the importance of interacting appropriately with others which gives them a sense of belonging. They form friendships that last a lifetime. Some of our employees have worked together for more than three decades. Those kinds of enduring relationships are rare in modern life.
Having a job at the Meadows allows them to be part of the community. They have the chance to interact with people who do not have disabilities. The public gets to see their dedication and commitment. Our customers are always impressed by the skill and ability displayed by our workers.
Being employed gives them a sense of identity. They get to see themselves in a way that has nothing to do with their particular disability. We offer them the freedom to be themselves. In our organization, they’re not judged – but rather they are accepted for who they are.
At the Meadows, differences are celebrated, not discouraged. Everyone is allowed to express their individuality even as they learn to work together as part of a team to achieve a common goal. Their job has a built-in level of trust. They are never pressured. Instead, they are encouraged to keep trying when attempting a new task.
Fortunately, in recent years more people with developmental disabilities are finding jobs in the community, and we certainly think that is a positive trend. However, for some individuals with intellectual challenges, working without supports is never going to be a realistic option.
That is why we must offer them an appropriate alternative.
We cannot allow people to be left behind just because their issues are more significant. They too deserve to experience the dignity and respect that comes with having a job. They should not be denied the opportunity to earn a paycheck because of circumstances that are not their fault and that are beyond their control.
It is our opinion that every person has the right to work. If adjustments or accommodations are needed to meet the particular needs of an individual it does not alter that right.
When citizens with intellectual challenges are given the chance to be productive in a vocational setting it results in a more inclusive and tolerant society.
For the incredible men and women we are privileged to employ, working at the Meadows is so much more than just a job.
We are thankful to have the opportunity to be a part of their lives.
Friendships are some of the most important relationships we have in life. They add a richness and warmness to our existence. They provide comfort and make us feel connected. They allow us to be understood and accepted for who we are. They provide us with people we can count on during difficult times. And, just as importantly, friendship gives us someone to share our happiest moments with.
People with intellectual challenges deserve to have those same meaningful relationships.
But, unfortunately, many people believe you can’t be friends with a person if they have a developmental disability.
Any two human beings on earth can be friends. It is only our bias and narrowmindedness that prevents it.
Typically, a person with an intellectual challenge is ready and willing to accept you as a friend. Often they have endured negative experiences that have left them feeling lonely. They have sometimes been ignored and forgotten. In some cases, they have been marginalized in society. That has created a real need to interact with someone they can trust and who will respect them.
The question is: what characteristics do you look for in a friend?
Do you want someone who is honest and trustworthy? A person who has a sense of humor and loves to laugh? An individual who is compassionate and cares about others? Someone who will value your friendship and won’t take it for granted?
Would you like to meet a person who does not judge you but rather accepts you? Someone who is loyal through good times and bad? An individual who forgives you when you are inconsiderate or unkind? A person who wants nothing more than to be your friend?
A person with a developmental disability can have each of those qualities and more.
If you will open your heart and your mind, you’ll find that there is no reason an individual with an intellectual challenge cannot be your friend.
All they require is that you to treat them the way they treat you.
Here’s an example. When I was growing up, there was a boy that lived on my street who had a developmental disability. He was happy, easy going, and always glad to see me. And although he was nonverbal, we quickly learned to communicate in our own way. It did not take long for us to become good friends.
We spent several years together until one afternoon I came home from school and my mother told me my friend had unexpectedly died the night before. It was a shocking moment that stands out in my childhood. The sadness and sense of loss was in no way diminished because he had a disability. It hurt just as much to think I would never see him again as it would losing any other person. He was my friend, and now he was gone. That was more than fifty years ago, but I can still remember the sound of his laughter.
That is the power of friendship. It makes us care about others in a way that impacts our lives.
Currently, the Meadows employs forty-seven men and women with some form of intellectual challenge. But the fact that they each have a disability does not alter their ability to be a friend.
I have been fortunate to work with them for seventeen years. During that time we have celebrated joyous moments together, as well as troubling days that tested us. But through it all, our appreciation for each other has never wavered.
These remarkable individuals have had such a positive effect on me that it is difficult to imagine what my life would be like if I had not been hired by this organization.
I am a better person for knowing them.
They are my friends.
When an individual arrives for their first day of work at the Meadows, it is an accomplishment resulting from a lifetime of effort. It’s the culmination of years of commitment and dedication. It’s the achievement of a goal that at times seemed unattainable – but is now a reality.
And, in almost every case, it required the loving support of their family.
However, it was not an easy journey. The challenge of raising any child is daunting, but when a disability is factored in, it changes everything.
Through the years, these families learned to have patience, they learned to embrace perseverance, and they learned to adapt.
The willingness to be flexible became necessary the moment a family’s loved one received the diagnosis of an intellectual challenge because, going forward, all of their lives were altered in significant ways.
At the Meadows, each of our families experienced that type of moment in one way or another. It was a point in time that took their breath away. It was a powerful combination of fear, worry, disappointment, shock and even anger.
In some cases, the family had suspected for some time that there could be an issue with their child. Perhaps there were delays or behaviors that gave some indication that something was different.
In other cases, they did not see the diagnosis coming.
However, when they learned their child would have lifelong challenges, there was an adjustment period as their expectations changed. Some quickly accepted their child’s disability while others struggled to understand why it had happened.
But, eventually, each family accepted their particular situation and committed themselves to ensuring that their child had a full and rich life.
It was that desire to see their son or daughter succeed that led them to the Meadows. Without their unrelenting efforts, their child might not have ever been prepared to enter the workforce.
Because I have only known their children as adults, I often wonder what their little boy or girl was like at the age of eight or ten. What particular issues did they face? What were the problems they struggled with as parents? Where did they find the strength to keep fighting for their child’s future?
I must say that working with these families through the years has touched my heart in a way that is difficult to describe. I am also a parent, and now a grandparent, but I never faced the challenges of having a loved one with an intellectual or physical disability.
That means I never feared that I might lose my child as they underwent dangerous surgical procedures to save their life. I never struggled with a sense of loss because my child was not going to be the person I thought they would be. I never endured the looks and whispers when my child was in public because people didn’t understand the person they were seeing. I never had to comfort my child when others bullied and ridiculed them just because of who they were. I never had professionals tell me that my child might not ever walk or talk or go to school or have a job.
But the families we work with chose to focus on the positive instead of the negative. They discovered that having a child with a disability showed them what really mattered in life. They realized the importance of appreciating each day they had with their son or daughter. They learned to value the simplest moments because they are the most beautiful. Every time their child reached a milestone their hearts soared with joy. And as their child grew up they were surprised by how hard they laughed and how often they cried all because of the unconditional love they experienced.
The amazing families of the Meadows have always played a vital role in our business, and they always will. We could not be a positive force in the community without them. It is a partnership that we value above all others because it is rooted in the common goal of seeing their child be successfully and safely employed so they can grow as a person and reach their true potential.
That is why we will continue to do everything in our power to justify the trust they place in our organization as they allow their sons and daughters to work under our supervision.
Most people would be shocked to learn that three out of every one hundred Americans have a developmental disability and that in the United States there are approximately ten million adults, teens, and children with some type of intellectual challenge.
Please stop for a moment and consider that number. Ten million.
That is more than the populations of Oklahoma, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Delaware, Vermont, and Rhode Island combined.
And yet a typical citizen could easily live most of their life without ever meeting a person with that particular challenge. However, it is also possible that they could come in contact with an individual who has that diagnosis - and not realize it.
People with intellectual challenges can be physically healthy with no visible signs of disability. In the right situation, you could spend a short amount of time with a person without ever knowing that their IQ was 70 or less. (That is the criteria the state of Oklahoma uses to classify a person as having a developmental disability.)
But these individuals are present in all areas of life. They go to school, they go to church, they eat at restaurants, they attend movies and they shop at the mall. They have the same interests, the same hopes and the same dreams as you and me. They want to be understood, they want to be valued and they want to be accepted.
Among the nation’s millions of people with developmental disabilities are the men and women that work at the Meadows. They are an accurate representation of all the other individuals around the country who are diagnosed with some form of intellectual challenge.
We employ adults with unspecified developmental disabilities, Down syndrome, autism, epilepsy, and individuals who have had traumatic brain injuries, strokes and brain tumors.
Each one of our employees has overcome tremendous physical and mental challenges on their road to successful employment. Through their desire to be part of the workforce, they have demonstrated courage and perseverance. They have tested themselves and discovered that they are capable of holding down a job that allows them to experience dignity and respect.
But, sadly, they have also had to struggle to have their rights upheld. They have fought against bias and judgment. Some have even faced ridicule and bullying. All because of who they are.
That is why organizations like the Meadows are so important to this population. We provide a sanctuary for individuals who would otherwise have difficulty finding employment. And one of the most important aspects of their job is the fact that it takes place in a safe and supportive environment. We not only help them develop vocational skills, we also monitor their health and safety at all times.
Our employees come to work each day, not only to earn a paycheck but also to have a purpose. Their employment is an important part of their daily life. Their sense of accomplishment, their feeling of achievement and the joy of belonging are all positive benefits that result from being employed with an organization where they are appreciated for who they are instead of for what they can do.
The millions of U.S. citizens who live with the diagnosis of an intellectual challenge are still often ignored and marginalized. In a sense, they remain invisible within society, and that is everyone’s loss.
However, because the Meadows specializes in secure data destruction, customers are welcomed into our facility to witness their confidential information being shredded. They watch our employees work, and they quickly realize that we are all far more alike than we are different.
Also, 20% of our employees go out each day into the community on our company trucks to businesses and organizations statewide to pick up material to be destroyed. Being in public gives people the chance to see what individuals with disabilities can accomplish when given the opportunity.
Ultimately, everyone benefits when we get to interact in meaningful ways with people who are more than willing to accept others for who they are and who, in return, deserve the same consideration.
That is why we believe that a significant number of the unseen millions with intellectual challenges would benefit greatly if they could be employed at an organization like the Meadows.
A new year is a time to not only reflect on what has been - but to also anticipate what could lie ahead.
Here at the Meadows, we believe our future looks secure. However, just like every other business, we will face challenges during the next twelve months. But, thankfully, our Board of Directors and management team have been vigilant in preparing to meet them.
First and foremost is the issue of state funding. With the Oklahoma budget crisis still unresolved, we cannot count on that source of income over the entire year. Although it is our hope that legislators will somehow find the courage to support men and women with developmental disabilities, at this time, we cannot be certain about their intentions.
But despite that particular financial issue, 2018 looks hopeful. Our business remains strong because our organization has an established reputation for integrity that has allowed us to maintain long-term relationships with our large customer base even as new partners come on board to utilize our services.
Without their loyal support, we would not be able to employ as many men and women as we do. Their willingness to do business with us is a testament to their belief that there is merit and worth in what the Meadows stands for. Our sincere appreciation for the commitment of our customers cannot be overstated.
Our annual Walk-A-Thon fundraiser in October was a tremendous success, raising over $62,500.00. That money will be used to purchase a new forklift and for repairs to our facility and other equipment as needed. The compassion of our sponsors including individuals, families, businesses, and corporations was astounding.
Another example of generosity and goodwill was recently demonstrated by the W. J. Jones Family Foundation. They make grants to deserving nonprofits, and two weeks ago they presented the Meadows with a check for $20,000.00.
We are humbled by the faith that has been placed in our organization, and we are truly grateful for the financial support we consistently receive from the community.
Obviously, we cannot predict what the future holds, but we do believe that our organization is well positioned to capitalize on good economic news as well as being prepared to withstand any additional downturns.
However, being a nonprofit means our focus is on something far more important than just the bottom line.
In good times and in bad, our mission remains the same; to provide supported employment for individuals who deserve the opportunity to experience the sense of satisfaction that comes with having a job.
The men and women with disabilities that we are blessed to work with are the reason the Meadows exists. We are here to serve them.
During the next twelve months, we look forward to assisting these amazing adults in maximizing their strengths while giving them the chance to develop new vocational skills that will be of value to them for the rest of their lives.
As 2018 grows near, we hope that everyone connected with the Meadows has a safe and prosperous new year, and we offer our sincere thanks for your ongoing support of our efforts to provide meaningful employment to men and women intellectual and physical challenges.
We deeply regret that lawmakers in our state have been unable to reach a budget compromise and instead have chosen to eliminate funding for organizations like the Meadows. The lack of money will have a dramatic impact on the lives of the most vulnerable among us. Many nonprofits will be forced to close. Tragically that will create significant job losses for men and women with intellectual and physical challenges.
We all know how difficult it is for people with developmental disabilities to find meaningful employment. The fact that they are losing what could be the only job they will ever have is heartbreaking for them and their families. So much time and effort have been expended helping them succeed in the workplace that it is infuriating to see those jobs eliminated in such a cold and calculated way.
Our hearts go out to organizations around the state who are facing the severe consequences of having their funding stripped away. We wish them the best and hope that they can find a way to survive financially so that the people they employ will not suffer.
Thankfully, the Meadows has been blessed with a management team that had the foresight and wisdom to prepare for such an unfortunate eventuality. Our Board of Directors, our Executive Director James Hill and our Vice President of Operations David Potter have worked tirelessly to prepare the Meadows to withstand the loss of government funding.
The road ahead will not be easy, but every one of the men and women we employ will remain with our organization. There will be no lost jobs, and wages will not be cut. Going forward, it will be business as usual at the Meadows.
To our more than three thousand customers statewide, we want to assure you that there will be no disruption in the services that we offer. You can continue to rely on our organization to provide you with the same secure shredding that you have come to count on. And we want to take this opportunity to thank you for doing business with us because it is your continued support through the years that has allowed us to remain financially stable.
To our workers and their families, we want you to know that we appreciate how you have always stood with us and now we will stand with you, by continuing to do everything in our power to provide a secure employment future for all of our employees.
The Meadows has always been a place of opportunity, and most importantly, a place of hope. We are not going to let political decisions change that.
For thirty-five years, The Meadows Center for Opportunity has served the employment needs of men and women with intellectual and physical challenges. During that time, the state has been an important financial partner in allowing us to fulfill our mission of providing work and vocational training to adults who otherwise would not have the chance to have a job.
Because we are a nonprofit, the compensation we receive each month from the state helps offset our operational costs as well as the salaries that are paid to our workers.
However, the state’s current budget crisis has created a difficult situation for organizations like ours as lawmakers are forced to make hard decisions that could adversely affect thousands of citizens with developmental disabilities.
To present a clear picture of what is at stake, we would like to introduce you to some of the people we currently employ. In each case, their particular disability is listed last, because it is the least important part of who they are.
* This person has limited range of motion in their arms and legs, as well as visual impairment, which puts them at risk for frequent falls. However, these challenges do not stop them from enjoying every moment of their day. Their outgoing nature and love of people make everyone a potential friend. This individual has a developmental disability.
* This person has held down a steady job for more than twenty-five years, despite the fact that they sometimes have multiple seizures in a single day. Although their seizure activity sometimes scares them and leaves them feeling vulnerable, they continue to remain active despite the knowledge that they could have a medical emergency at any moment. This individual has epilepsy.
* This person spent many years living in an institution, but now they have successfully made the transition to living in a group home in the community. They enjoy their personal freedom and sense of independence. They have made friends, and they participate in many different activities that were previously denied to them. This individual has a developmental disability.
* This person has the use of one arm. They also have an issue with their leg that requires them to use an assistive device to maintain their balance. Over time, they have developed their own unique ways of adapting to their physical challenges so they can accomplish many of the tasks required in daily living. This individual has a traumatic brain injury.
* This person is medically fragile. Although their health is a constant issue, they do not allow it to keep them from remaining positive and upbeat. They attempt to make the most of each day by enjoying the things that are important to them, as they continue to live a life filled with hope. This individual has a developmental disability.
* This person embraces life with tremendous humor and joy. They are a bundle of energy, constantly in motion and never slowing down. With their over the top personality, they delight in being the center of attention and entertaining everyone around them. They make others feel good because they are genuine, with no pretense. This individual has had a stroke.
* This person uses assistive devices to help with their mobility as well as hearing aids that allow them to communicate and interact. Together, these appliances facilitate their participation in the community and in activities they enjoy sharing with their family and friends. It is the feeling of inclusion that matters most to them. This individual has a developmental disability.
* This person has a great sense of humor and loves to kid around and play practical jokes. The fact that their speech can be difficult to understand, does not inhibit their ability to connect with others. They are able to find clever ways to convey their thoughts, ideas, and opinions – whatever the situation. This individual has cerebral palsy.
* This person has endured multiple health issues, including heart surgery. At this time they are possibly facing yet another medical condition, but they continue to do all of the things that have meaning for them. Their love of art and the fulfillment they find in being creative helps them face their daily challenges. This individual has Down syndrome.
* This person does not like to sit still and would rather be up and moving around. They have a profound love for all things related to Disney, and they have a deep fascination with music and dancing. They prefer to interact with others by communicating in repetitive conversations that make them feel comfortable. This individual has autism.
* This person is not always aware of what is real and what is not. However, that does not mean that they are incapable of enjoying the experiences that actually occur in their lives. Although they can sometimes be confused, it does not keep them from engaging with others in ways that are important to them. This individual has a developmental disability.
* This person has challenges with their balance, motor skills, and vision. However, they do not let those issues deter them from being kind and compassionate to everyone they meet. Because of the thoughtfulness and consideration, they share with others, they have a thriving social life with many friends. This individual has had a brain tumor.
These are just a few of the extraordinary men and women we are currently able to employ, due in part, to the funding we receive from the state.
Although each one of these individuals deals with issues that make their life considerably more complicated than the lives of most citizens, it does not prevent them from holding down a meaningful job that gives them a deep sense of fulfillment.
Each weekday, no matter what challenges they face, they come to work and perform their assigned duties to the best of their abilities. Having that opportunity not only allows them to earn a paycheck, it also helps them reach their full potential.
None of these people are trying to be courageous or inspirational. They are just living their lives, day to day, in the particular circumstances they happen to be in. The fact that they need assistance and financial support to maintain their employment makes no difference. It does not diminish the effort they put forth or the results they achieve.
What our employees are able to accomplish is the result of their perseverance and determination. It is their commitment to achieve the extraordinary that makes them successful.
In return, we must show the same commitment to them. We owe them our best efforts to ensure that they have the necessary funding to allow them to be successfully employed.
However, as we look towards the future, the mission of the Meadows is at risk. We want to continue to offer meaningful employment in a safe and supportive environment to as many adults with disabilities as possible - but to do that on a large scale requires uninterrupted state funding.
Ultimately, Oklahoma’s budget crisis is a test of moral character. How we choose to respond to the needs of vulnerable citizens is a reflection of the kind of society we want to have.
For our elected officials, the current financial shortfall provides the perfect opportunity to show true leadership by putting the needs of men and women with intellectual and physical challenges ahead of petty politics. The decisions they ultimately make will touch the lives of our employees and their families, in profound ways.
It is critical that state lawmakers look within themselves and find the courage to care.
The regrettable state of politics in our nation is a concern for all of us. Unfortunately, many people do not take the actions, or lack of action, by elected officials seriously – until it suddenly affects them personally. But if we allow ourselves to step back and look at the bigger picture, we can see that political decisions impact all of our lives in profound ways.
This is particularly true for citizens with developmental disabilities who rely on the government to act in their best interest regarding their health and safety.
The level of responsibility that elected officials have to protect the welfare of those who are at risk cannot be overstated. When politicians act irresponsibly it is typically those who are vulnerable that suffer the most.
Obviously, it is easy to do the right thing when there is plenty of money. Funding the vital programs that make a difference to people who depend on them to maintain quality of life is not a challenge.
But it becomes a far different matter when there are difficult choices that must be made because there are fewer dollars to go around. But these are the decisions that must be made by the men and women who willingly seek to hold office during both good times and bad.
Although the government rarely embraces budgetary responsibility, we should, at the very least, be able to expect those who represent us to spend the funds available in the most thoughtful, beneficial way.
Budget constraints are never easy. Hard choices have to be made. But there must be careful consideration given to financial cutbacks that are aimed at those who too often do not have a political voice to express their concern and their outrage.
The needs of an individual with a developmental disability should receive the same attention as those of any other person. But instead, they often become faceless collateral damage in the eyes of some legislators who are not concerned about the suffering that results from poor planning and mismanagement. The fact that innocent lives are adversely affected in serious ways does not move them. Their dispassionate approach to meeting basic human needs is disturbing, and, in many ways, their innate sense of right and wrong is compromised, leaving them with the inability to feel empathy for those who are at risk.
To target a group because they might be less likely to understand what is happening or because they struggle to stand up for themselves is immoral at the least and actually cruel in many cases. That is why those of us who care about people with intellectual challenges must be willing to advocate on their behalf.
Cutting funding for the programs that individuals with developmental disabilities depend on, demonstrates a clear lack of compassion, a possible lack of character and a complete lack of knowledge regarding the long struggle that these men and women have waged to lead fulfilling and rewarding lives.
To have this progress stopped and reversed is unacceptable. There can be no justifiable explanation for hurting those who innocently trust political leaders to provide them with the support they require.
Unfortunately, some elected officials view constituents with developmental disabilities as less important than other citizens. Some of them believe that people with intellectual challenges are not likely to follow the issues or to vote. Therefore, they are not considered to be a critical part of their political base.
But even if those assumptions are true – it doesn’t matter.
People with developmental disabilities are equal citizens under the law, and they deserve complete representation, just like anyone else.
When a person is voted into political office there is a trust placed in that individual that they will look after the rights and concerns of all their constituents. When that faith is not kept, the trust is broken. Once that occurs, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to repair. When a politician demonstrates their willingness to take advantage of those who do not have the ability or resources to defend their rights, we move in a perilous direction that can do irrevocable harm to society.
That is why it is imperative that elected officials govern with a sense of fairness that is guided by human decency. They have an obligation to embrace change in a way that does not leave some behind. They must look to the future while respecting the efforts made in the past by groups fighting against injustice.
If a political figure cannot meet that criteria they do not deserve to continue to hold office.
Elected officials must understand that they have an opportunity that few have. They have the ability to create laws that govern the lives of others. They can affect change, both positive and negative, with their votes on legislation. They can improve everything from living conditions to educational opportunities. They can ensure that people have adequate and affordable health care.
The men and women who hold political office, wield power that people with developmental disabilities do not possess. Therefore they can have a profound effect on the lives of individuals who are depending on them to make fair decisions. This is a responsibility that must be taken seriously. It is their duty to protect those in society who can be exploited or taken advantage of. To do otherwise is a form of neglect that cannot be tolerated.
In our political system, every person has the same rights. Every person deserves to be heard and understood. Every person deserves representation. Every person is equal.
That means that people who are vulnerable cannot be pushed aside just because it is inconvenient to make the effort to assist them. They cannot be marginalized because it requires funding to give them the support they require to live a rewarding life.
Whether at the state or federal level, the men and women we elect to serve us have the obligation to do exactly that. A political life should be one of service, particularly to those who need assistance so they can participate fully in society.
Governing is not about passing laws that benefit a particular special interest. It’s not about catering to campaign contributors. It’s not about giving preferential treatment to those who lead lives of privilege and prestige.
Governing is about ensuring people’s safety and well-being in all demographics. It’s about creating the opportunities that allow people to move forward with their lives. It’s about making a positive difference for those who entrusted you with power.
Elected officials must treat all of the people they represent with dignity and respect – and that includes individuals with developmental disabilities.
Compassion should always come before cost.