My transition into senior year at Gann Academy has been quite hectic with school work, college applications, community service, dance, and, of course, dance4empowerment. In order to keep my blog current and interesting while I settle into the academic year, I have asked several people who have inspired me while creating dance4empowerment to be guest bloggers. My first guest blogger is Dov Hirth; Dov is part of the marketing and development team at ALEH in Jerusalem, Israel. I met Dov last March while visiting Israel as part of the program I created for myself during Gann’s Exploration Week.
ALEH is very impressive as they care for children with severe disabilities and engage them in everyday activities. During my visit I saw children of all ages and levels of functioning prepare for Passover by washing dishes and utensils, vacuuming, and cleaning to remove chometz. The staff’s ability to teach the disabled with so much passion and compassion was deeply inspiring to me. I knew in an instant that this kind of connection would be a key element to dance4empowerment while teaching others the importance of inclusion of people with disabilities in our communities. Thank you Dov and everyone at ALEH!
Disability not a tragedy – Op-ed: Instead of giving up on disabled kids, society should celebrate their achievements
(This op-ed first appeared on Ynet News – Israel Opinion – Jan 8, 2013)
First, I’d like to say what an honor it is for me to be guest blogging on Sierra’s dance4empowerment blog. dance4empowerment is such an amazing organization that opens worlds for the disabled population. Sierra is a shining star and we at ALEH feel very fortunate to know her and her organization.
How many times have we heard that a child has been born without the ability to walk, or with a physical defect, and he or she is written off, even before receiving a name? The reactions comes fast and furious, involving words like “shame,” “horrible,” and yes, even “tragedy.”
Tragedy? How can the birth of a “normal” child be a miracle but the birth of a child with a disability be a tragedy?
And that’s not the only example.
A soldier loses sight while defending his country and his future potential is written off by his friends. A difficult birth results in certain mental challenges for the child, and the parents give up even before they begin parenting.
As someone who works closely with such children, day in and day out, I have a call to action: Let’s calibrate.
To be clear, there are tragedies in this world. Hurricane Sandy and the Newtown massacre were tragedies. Stories about children dying due to parental negligence are tragedies.
But the above examples of the baby, the soldier and the difficult birth are not tragedies. Quite the opposite. I see each of those as an inspiring and uplifting success story in the making.
What is it that leads us to consider disability to be tragic? Is it our societal obsession with physical looks? Our need to be the fastest, the strongest, the richest?
The real tragedy
I have a friend who has taken it upon himself to train to run a marathon. It will be his first marathon, and he’s committed several months to get himself in shape for the big race. He is in the shape of his life, and when he crosses the finish line, it will be the fulfillment of a dream he’s had since he was a five year-old child.
But he won’t win the race. Someone else will have that honor, someone more capable. And if that’s the case – that my friend will not win, but he nonetheless considers finishing this marathon to be an achievement – isn’t it so?
And if that is the case, why can’t we apply the same standards of achievement to disabled children (and adults)? Why can’t we applaud a severely disabled nine year-old child who – through hard work and determination – is able to lift a spoon to his mouth successfully for the very first time? Why can’t we applaud the teenage girl who – through hard work and determination – finds a way to complete a puzzle designed for a three year-old?
I believe our society should celebrate these achievements the same way we celebrate a grown man running a marathon at a speed that many world-class runners would consider unimpressive.
As I see it, it is really just a matter of staying focused and making sure that we continue to march forward toward greater inclusion for our disabled population. Because as Major General (res.) Doron Almog, one of the most vocal champions of the disabled population in Israel, frequently says, “Our generation will be judged by the way we treat the weakest members of society.”
The key to providing disabled children with the opportunity to develop to their fullest potentials is removing whatever barriers we can to allow them full access to experiences that will both help them grow and enrich their lives. Even if the disabled population cannot participate in the same way, we must still afford them access.
I grew up in an environment where we were told that “you can do anything you want, if you try hard enough, and if you want it badly enough.” Why are the rules different for those who are disabled? Why don’t they get to dream? Why don’t they receive what I believe is the unalienable right to having achievable goals?
Why are they written off?
That is the real tragedy.
We have all, whether directly or indirectly, grown to understand that tragedies do take place in this world. We have seen the pain and the tears, yet we haven’t yet understood that, given how painful tragedies are, we must be clear on what qualifies and what does not.
So, we must calibrate, and appreciate that disability is not a tragedy.
It is only tragic when one considers disability to be the end of the potential for achievement.
Dov Hirth is the director of marketing and development for ALEH (www.aleh.org), which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. ALEH provides over 650 children from around Israel with high-level medical and rehabilitative care in an effort to help them reach their greatest potentials.