For decades, breaking the four-minute mile was believed to be “scientifically impossible.” That is… right up until Roger Banister managed to do so in 1954. Clearly, his was a “game-changing” moment.
However, what happened after that record-breaking day is often lost in our history books. In the three years immediately following Banister’s inspiring run, SIXTEEN more people ran sub four-minute miles. The key for each of the respected athletes was to break through their mental barriers. This allowed each one to achieve his optimized performance. Quite simply, the “push” each runner needed to rout the overwhelming “scientific impossibility” was as simple as the sincere and profound belief that one could succeed.
As a diverse grassroots community, self-advocates with developmental disabilities and related community activists need to build upon that same foundation of achievable success. To do so, the value-laden messages communicated by grassroots activists needs to be delivered far beyond the circle of traditional supporters and family members of those with disabilities. All Americans should be aware of the contributions and diversity that people with intellectual challenges and acquired disabilities bring to the “community table.” Only then will funding for vulnerable people be viewed as an intrinsic part of a state’s budget rather than an “optional part” of society.
The first step in this transformation will be for our legislators, elected officials and community leaders to re-frame the way in which success is “measured” (aka: ROI or “return on investment”) and in particular, recognition for the contributory value of people with developmental disabilities. Each human being on the face of the earth is worthy of respect. So, while there are indeed hard costs associated with enabling people the right to live in local communities, there are an equal (if not greater) number of intangible benefits created by people with developmental disabilities.
To be clear, not everything the next generation needs for long-term success can be taught within the confines of a four wall classroom or via an iPad app. So, I ask….What is the dollar value of teaching our kids respect? What is the worth of a hands-on demonstration project that will enforce the value and importance of “meaningful work” in a person’s life? In an age of short-attention spans and limited time frames, how do we identify and consistently “teach” patience? How are our future leaders acquiring cooperation and collaboration skills today? Can they recognize the difference between competition and a partnership? Do they understand that every member of a team brings a unique gift or talent?
More importantly, what is the dollar value we will place on each of these lessons? Without question, the tangible value of these lessons may best be demonstrated by the lingering consequences of Wall Street’s financial breakdown. The implosion was as a direct result of ignorance and/or willful apathy towards the most basic life skills lessons listed above. The good news is that both our youth and our elders can all learn these life skills from routine interaction with people with developmental disabilities. So, success is possible!
That being said, there is much to be done and many challenges to overcome. But, to quote John Elliot, “History shows us that people who end up changing the world are always nuts….. Until they are right and then, they are geniuses.”