By Samuel Moore-Sobel
Disability. It’s an all-encompassing word, one that is used in the parlance of our culture offhandedly as if everyone should know its true definition. Merriam-Webster defines the word as “a physical, mental, cognitive or developmental condition that impairs, interferes with or limits a person’s ability to engage in certain tasks or actions or participate in typical daily activities and interactions.” It may be easy for those of us who do not have a disability to ignore the daily life of someone who does—yet no one’s voice in this world should ever be too low or small to be heard.
How many people in America have a disability? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 53 million adults possess a disability in this country—about one out of every five adults. CDC Director Tom Frieden was quoted as saying, “We are all at risk of having a disability at some point in our lifetime.”
With the passage of time, our culture and society have become more accepting and accommodating of those within our population who possess different skills and abilities than the mainstream. This evolution in some ways culminated in the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. John Meacham’s “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush” details the passage of this historic legislation. Once the legislative victory was secured, President Bush victoriously declared that the bill helped destroy a “wall, one which has for too many generations separated American with disabilities from the freedom they could glimpse, but not grasp.”
Despite such progress, legislation alone is not enough to fill the gap between services offered and the realities of daily life for persons with disabilities. Local communities are left to grapple with the implications of the complex issues faced by members of the disability community. The Loudoun County Disability Services Board attempts to fill the gap by “identifying and advising on issues of importance to people with disabilities, their families and caregivers.” This input is provided to the Board of Supervisors, county staff and various other business leaders throughout the community.
Since the beginning of my term, I have had the honor and privilege of hearing impactful stories, anecdotes that have stuck with me ever since. I have seen first-hand how valuable members of the disability community and their stories are to the fabric of our communities and the rest of the country as a whole. Recently I have been reminded of the importance of stories, not only in raising awareness but even more importantly in cultivating hope.
Wendy Melcher, coordinator at McLean Bible Church’s Loudoun Campus, told me a moving story in a recent conversation about a mother who despairs as she watches her child’s soccer games, “knowing that her child with special needs would never have the opportunity to participate in organized sports.” Wendy started a program for special needs kids to play baseball on Saturdays. “Give it a shot,” she told the child’s mother. Melcher’s persistence paid off, as the child began participating. “Mom was ecstatic that she actually got to see her child play an organized sport,” Melcher said.
Months later, a co-worker tells me about her special needs daughter, swimming competitively at their local pool. She pulls out her cell phone to play the captured video of a recent event. Her daughter swims with a lot of heart, pushing herself as hard as she can to reach the finish line. The whole pool continuously cheers as she glides through the water. “It brought me to tears,” my co-worker tells me. An outpouring of support can do much to ease the burdened minds of caring family members. “This is how it should be,” she said.
Perhaps participating in organized sports can engender a feeling of normalcy, a common desire repeatedly heard in numerous conversations. At the heart of the matter is a desire to be known for more than possessing a disability. Most want to be seen for all that they are—people with hopes and dreams, fears and shortcomings. Despite the progress achieved, a common theme of desiring to be heard remains.
To those who feel unheard, I write in part to tell you that I hear you, the Loudoun County Disability Services Board hears you, and, it is our job to ensure that the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors hears you. My colleagues and I want to continue hearing and sharing your stories, increasing awareness while offering hope to all those residing in Loudoun County and beyond. I invite all readers to join our efforts to maintain a healthy balance between championing legislation and engaging in active storytelling—all while lending an ear to those in our community that deserve to be heard.
Samuel Moore-Sobel is a member of the Loudoun County Disability Services Board. Learn more about the board at loudoun.gov/dsb. Working for You is a rotating column providing space for Loudoun’s nonprofit leaders to let readers know what they do and how they can help the cause. To participate in the program, email firstname.lastname@example.org.