We are all aware of the concept of human rights. We are also aware of the fact that throughout history those rights have been denied to certain groups in society. Unfortunately, that has been particularly true when it came to men and women with developmental disabilities.

Because they were often thought to be inferior, they were deemed unworthy of the basic considerations we all expect as human beings. Denying them their rights led to serious even dangerous consequences. Individuals with all types of intellectual challenges were treated as second class citizens and worse.

There was no excuse for this, but it happened, in part, because they were a minority with little political power. Without effective representation, their rights were pushed aside and ignored. That led to marginalization, neglect, and abuse.

Obviously, our society cannot thrive if we willingly choose to leave some behind. It diminishes all of us when everyone is not included. The rights of the individual are just as important as the rights of the masses.

That is why the rights of every person must always be upheld without exception, and that means that people with developmental disabilities should enjoy the same rights as every other citizen.

Those rights include:

  • Receiving the best possible education
  • Having equal employment opportunities
  • Receiving proper health care
  • Being provided with the supports needed to maintain their independence
  • Living in the community
  • Having accessibility to all buildings and forms of transportation
  • Making as many personal choices as they safely can
  • Having their thoughts, ideas and opinions understood
  • Inclusion in all areas of society
  • Being treated with dignity and respect at all times

It is important to understand that the attainment of these rights is not based on achievement or accomplishments. They are not contingent on the results of an IQ test or a psychological evaluation. They are not the result of what an individual can or cannot do.

Too often people focus only on the “potential” of an individual with a developmental disability as if it is something that can be measured in a standardized fashion. But that is not the way to value a person.

A man or woman with an intellectual challenge should be appreciated for who they are now – not for who they might become.

Basic rights should be accorded to a person based solely on their humanity. Therefore, those rights are ironclad, universal, and non-negotiable. And they must be protected against intolerance, cynicism, and bias.

Rights are not gifts to be bestowed on someone – they are deserved. They cannot be applied and then taken away at will. They cannot be given to some and withheld from others. If we believe that is acceptable then it’s possible they could be taken from anyone for any reason.

Unfortunately, rights are far more precarious for people who can sometimes have difficulty expressing their needs and desires and may not fully understand when they are being taken advantage of.

Because of the level of vulnerability present in individuals with developmental disabilities, they are dependent on others to safeguard their rights to help prevent physical, mental, and emotional abuse as well as other forms of exploitation.

That means we have a responsibility to act as their advocates and to step-up and fight on their behalf. That commitment requires us to be understanding and accepting. And we must be willing to fight over the long haul with persistence and perseverance.

Ultimately, ensuring that men and women with intellectual challenges receive the rights they deserve is an act of decency because it adds empathy and compassion to our world. It benefits everyone when those who have been mistreated in the past are allowed to take their place in society.

On the other hand, what does it say about us if we are not willing to defend the rights of those who are most vulnerable?

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