Today is my birthday. I’m not sure if it’s the maturity that comes with age or the fact that I’ve learned from my little guy with Down syndrome that it’s not all about me, but when I’m asked the question “what do you want for your birthday?”, it’s not material things that come to mind.
In the four and a half years since my son was born, I’ve been motivated to give back, help people along in their special needs journey, and connect people who can help with organizations and people who need help. My hope is that as I continue on this journey, I will make an impact, be an influencer, drive change.
So this year, my answer to “what do you want for your birthday?” is this—about 5 minutes of your time to ask you to do the following:
- Visit thearcalliance.org, and consider making a donation. My family started a small fund called the Evan’s Friends fund after learning that just 10 minutes from our house, there was a family whose children were playing with wire hangers because they had no toys. This fund allows therapists to purchase therapy toys and tools. The fund was used this year to help a family whose apartment burned down to help their child in Early Intervention get some of the toys/items they needed for them. If this fund is not for you, think of starting something similar in your community, with a local early intervention provider.
- Buy coffee from dreamerscoffeehouse.com This business is online right now, but it will soon become a bricks and mortar coffee house that will employ individuals of all abilities. We need more people to begin businesses like these that will employ our family members with special needs to provide them with satisfying employment experiences. We can promote creation of new businesses like these by ensuring the success of the ones already in existence. Buy coffee for yourself, for your friends, for all your upcoming auctions and raffles, and soon, we may see this business as place to go to enjoy a great latte or cup of coffee, being served by employing our loved ones who are proud of their wonderful job.
- Visit changingthefaceofbeauty.org and learn about inclusive advertising. Then encourage businesses you use to join the campaign. People with disabilities are the largest minority, and as a group, have significant disposable income and are brand loyal to the companies that embrace those of different abilities. People with disabilities, people like our loved ones, consume the same food, clothing, toys, and goods that those without disabilities consume, yet they’re often completely left out of advertising. Changing the Face of Beauty seeks to help make sure our loved ones are included in advertising. They believe that if it becomes part of the norm to see people of all abilities in advertising, then it will be part of the norm to see people of all abilities included in our workplaces too.
- Connect with the organizations dedicated to the conditions helping our loved ones. For me, those organizations are The National Down Syndrome Congress, ndsccenter.org ; The Trisomy 21 Program at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia http://www.chop.edu/centers-programs/trisomy-21-program#.VZdI73rH-po ; The Buddy Walk http://www.ndss.org/Buddy-Walk/ ; The Montgomery County Down Syndrome Interest Group http://www.mcdsig.org/ ; The T21 Club of the Delaware Valley http://www.t21clubofthedelawarevalley.org/ . These organizations can help so much in providing you resources, medical information, support, and a sense of belonging.
- Challenge your workplaces to become more inclusive (Ok. This could take more than 5 minutes). Connect with your recruiting departments, HR, and employee resource groups that focus on the differently able (many workplaces have them), and let them know that it’s important that our workplaces hire people of all abilities. If you’re not sure how to make this happen, there are organizations that can help. Ruh Global, at ruhglobal.com, and the US Business Leadership Network, at www.usbln.org, can help create disability confident workplaces that embraces inclusion.
This year, instead of wanting things for my birthday, I want change, change that will make the world a more inclusive place, so that as my four year old grows and matures, he will find a world that is just as ready for him as he is for the world.