This October, many Americans across the United States celebrated the contributions and achievements of Americans with disabilities as part of the American workforce. We also take time in our public schools to recognize and highlight the contributions made by people with disabilities.
National Disability Awareness Month has been observed in October every year for over 70 years. The purpose of highlighting and celebrating people with disabilities is so we do not lose sight of the many and varied contributions and achievements that have been made in our community and nation by individuals living with disabilities. The history of National Disability Awareness Month traces back to 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week of October each year “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.”
In 1962, the word “physically” was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with all types of disabilities.
In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.
Seeing disabilities as differences rather than seeing someone as disabled allows the individual with the disability, as well as anyone interacting with them, the choice to focus on their gifts or impairment.
The purpose of public education should be to enhance the skills the student already possesses and then develop new skills needed to help the students perform at their very best. Allowing ourselves to see someone’s strengths and gifts first, rather than their impairment, affords us all the opportunity to better understand how each of us contributes to the greater whole. Ludwig van Beethoven, Franklin D Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Vincent van Gogh, Albert Einstein, George Patton, Thomas Edison, Hans Christian Anderson, George Washington and Nelson Rockefeller all had disabilities yet achieved greatness. Gifted students who have a disability do not need to be restricted in their achievements.
Arlington Public Schools staff continually strives to place emphasis and focus on the gifts and strengths of students first and then the impairment.
We are proud to create and work in an educational environment that not only embraces and promotes inclusion, but also works diligently and passionately to ensure that inclusion of all students is a part of our culture.
Through education, students who live with disabilities are given the foundational skills and knowledge needed to graduate, thereby putting them in a better place to make positive life choices as they competitively enter the workforce and ultimately give back to their community. Arlington teachers and staff play critical roles in empowering the next generation of Americans with disabilities. Each day, Arlington staff provides a supportive and quality education to an increasingly diverse student population – each holding promise for achievements beyond what some believe to be possible.
Dave McKellar is director of special education for Arlington Public Schools. The district’s column runs monthly.