By Laura Echevarria, NRL Director of Communications and Press Secretary
Editor’s note. This appears in the January issue of National Right to Life News. Please share the entire 42 page issue with pro-life family and friends.
Our culture embraces people with disabilities more readily than it has in the past but many of those same supportive voices claim that only those with disabilities can speak out regarding their particular disability.
The downside to this is that people who have more severe forms of a disability can’t speak out and can’t advocate for themselves. This creates a two-tiered system of acceptance and to some degree diminishes the condition of those with a more severe physical or mental condition.
Case in point.
My family and I traveled by plane over the Christmas holidays and on our layover to our destination, a woman in the seat in front of us stood up to disembark. She turned to check her seat and saw that my son’s face mask was partially off. She immediately became irate and wanted to know if he had been unmasked during the flight (he hadn’t, he had just let his mask drop below his nose after we had landed, and I didn’t realize it).
Peter is eighteen and has mild/moderate autism. He is very sweet and compliant but is under the guardianship of my husband and me because he cannot advocate for himself. His diagnosis classification as “moderate” is related to his ability to communicate—Peter has the communication skills of a 4-year-old child.
I could barely contain my ire, but Peter put his mask back on as she demanded and diffused the situation by asking her what her name was and where she lived.
But as she turned to leave, she announced that she was on the spectrum, “too,” as if that somehow made her Peter’s peer.
Acting independently as an adult and always needing an aide are not the same. I struggled to see the parallel: she wasn’t under someone else’s guardianship like my son and then stripped of her rights to marry, vote, drive, etc. She certainly didn’t struggle to communicate.
But then another event on our trip made up for all of that.
After an eventful day sightseeing on our trip, we stopped to eat. The restaurant had a live band playing songs in Spanish and, while we all ate, Peter was also moving to the music in his seat, and we were encouraging him. My husband was sitting next to Peter and helping him by cutting up his chicken.
These are normal behaviors for us, and we count Peter as a blessing. Neither he nor his brother Nathan (who is also on the spectrum but with a milder condition) have ever been a “burden”
But this slightly older couple apparently were watching us and felt blessed by what they saw. They called our waitress over and told her that they were going to pay for our meal. We’ve never had this happen before and we were stunned.
It turned out that both the husband and wife were retired teachers, and he was in the National Guard in Puerto Rico. The gentleman spoke of Peter’s existence as a blessing and a gift. And he was pleased to see how we treated Peter and his presence in our lives.
What a joy to find a couple so wholly given over to the idea that all people— regardless of ability or disability— can be a blessing to others! This is something we firmly believe in, and I have the privilege to work with wonderful people every day who are dedicated to advancing the right to life. But it was wonderful to find that Peter’s presence and our attitudes toward him was a blessing to perfect stranger!
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