Disabilities shouldn’t divide us

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 17, 2011

By Mark Ritchie
Editorís note: These are opening remarks made by moderator Mark Ritchie at the Meet Your Neighbor Forum held Oct. 11 at the Salisbury Civic Center.
The Covenant Community Connection, a subcommittee of the Salisbury Rowan Human Relations Council, is a fellowship of concerned people of our community committed to being a multicultural voice helping to foster unity and harmony in our community, demonstrating compassion and love for one another, understanding, appreciating and respecting differences, celebrating commonalities, and affirming that everyone has value and worth.
We are led by Betty Jo Hardy as chairperson and host of two Meet Your Neighbor Forums per year, each with a different topic to foster understanding so that we can come to be a more caring community. This forumís topic is ěOur Neighbors with Disabilitiesî.
In our forum this evening we will be searching for wisdom that is needed for moving beyond the lie that people with disabilities are any less of a person. For when we gain knowledge, we can come to an understanding that suspends judgment so that our community can move from mere tolerance to acceptance and eventually to inclusion of all people as full citizens of the community.
There is a philosophy from the African tradition called Ubuntu that recognizes how we are inextricably bound in each otherís humanity. Translated as, ěI am because you are,î Ubuntu describes a sense of unity between people through which we each discover our own strengths and virtues. With this attitude of relationship, we come to realize that on some level, ěI am that tooî.
By exploring the challenges of daily life and how they are met, we hope to bring understanding that we are all better off individually when the community is better off collectively. Our society sends a message of independence and self promotion that in reality is a lie. We are interdependent, and can never achieve anything of value in isolation, for its very value is dependent on ěthe other.î
We are here to celebrate our 98-99 percent sameness instead of distancing ourselves over our 1-2 percent differences. As for the DNA structure of every human being, there is at most a .1 percent (thatís 1/10th of 1 percent) difference between any of us, yet we can get so focused on that miniscule .1 percent difference that we fail to see the person first, if at all. It is frightening to realize how much hate and harm our inhumanity can create over our small differences.
At some level, we each have a disability. At some level, we have each suffered some form of discrimination.
I invite you to open to your humanity, suspend judgment, and find the compassion that comes from belonging to community. From this place, we can all be first-class citizens because there is no other class.
We especially thank our panelists made up of individuals who are disabled and/or work to serve those with disabilities.
Monica Foster, motivational speaker, trainer and consultant who is a wheelchair user;
Wanda Foil, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College instructor who is blind;
Darryl Bolt, construction contractor who has deafness;
Daina Frederick, Department of Social Services Adult Services supervisor;
John Mitchell, VA Equal Employment Opportunities manager;
Dr. Crystal Vail, Rowan-Salisbury School System, director of exceptional children;
Dr. Shanyn Aysta-Isaac, VA recovery coordinator;
Jane Jackman, director of The Arc of Rowan.