David Rundle: Leaders should affirm worth of the disabled

06/16/2013 12:00 AM

06/14/2013 6:35 PM

If I said “Haiti,” what would you think of? Would it be the chronically poor Caribbean nation with a history of corrupt dictators? It might be the images we saw of rubble after the 2010 earthquake. But I bet it wouldn’t be Gerald Oriol Jr.

Oriol is a government official involved with rebuilding Haiti. Specifically, he is the secretary of state for the integration of people with disabilities. He is Harvard-educated and speaks fluent English with hardly an accent.

What makes Oriol so amazing is that he doesn’t approach his job with just vast learned knowledge, although I’m sure he has that. He also has firsthand experience of being severely disabled, having had muscular dystrophy since he was 6. This gives him a chance to tell others in his government what it really means to be disabled.

Do we have such an official, either appointed or elected, at the state or national level? I have never seen President Obama or Gov. Sam Brownback with such a Cabinet member or adviser.

Most of us with severe disabilities know that many refuse to admit we are their equal and deserve respect and to be full members of society. Now, a United Nations report on children with disabilities tells us we are correct, for the treatment of such kids does not change once they reach adulthood.

According to the report, children with disabilities are marginalized, poor and undereducated. But those are just words. Let’s talk specifics.

In many cultures, children who are obviously disabled are viewed as cursed or able to bewitch. Even in America, mothers have starved or, as in one case involving a son with autism, burned their children to death.

In places such as China and Romania, a child with a birth defect very likely will know little of life save a crib and uncaring staff in a state-run orphanage. The child’s parents were probably shamed by her birth.

In the United Kingdom, adults with disabilities are apt to be portrayed as moochers and fakers.

As we treat children, so we treat adults. But Obama, Brownback and Kansas Sens. Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts can help. They cannot right each and every wrong mentioned here. But they can affirm the fundamental worth and humanity of each and every human, regardless of disability.

They shouldn’t wait for political action committees to pressure them; they never will. They should follow the better angels of their nature and be the voices of the voiceless. Lead on this simply because it is the right thing.

Listen to the man from Haiti. Find an Oriol for the disabled young of the world.

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