The recent Fourth of July holiday got me thinking … What does Independence Day really mean? Fireworks displays, a trip to the beach, a family picnic, a celebration of the birth of our nation?
For thousands of folks across Maryland and Carroll County with intellectual and developmental disabilities (ID/DD), Independence Day is not something they take for granted. "Independence" is something they strive for every day, as their cognitive and physical challenges may make it difficult to perform the everyday tasks that you and I take for granted.
We are fortunate here in Carroll County to have a number of nonprofit organizations whose mission is to enhance the independence of our family members, friends, and neighbors with ID/DD. That "group home" down the street may very well be helping a young man with Down Syndrome learn how to make a sandwich and pack his lunch. Sure, no big deal you say? Well, it is a big deal for someone who wants to become independent! He is proud of his successes, no matter how small, as they are building the foundation for independent living. You see, he will be taking that lunch box to one of the amazing local day programs that are helping him find a job through community exploration, job training, and volunteer work. Maryland is moving forward with initiatives to get more folks with ID/DD out of facility-based programs and into the community. All steps toward independence.
Sure, not everyone is able to make their own lunch and get a paying job in the community, but that doesn't mean they cannot make a contribution to their community. I know a young lady who cannot read, write or speak. During the school year, she volunteers helping children learn how to read. Yes, you read that correctly. Children who are experiencing challenges with reading gather around and read to her. She smiles, laughs and enjoys the interaction. She is helping build the self-esteem and confidence of the young readers. She makes a difference in her community. To her, that's what independence is all about.
While the politicians in Washington, D.C., spar over healthcare reform, kicking Medicaid around like it's a soccer ball, you need to know that cuts to Medicaid funding will have a direct, negative impact on local nonprofits that support citizens with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Medicaid caps and cuts will limit or cut resources for people who strive every single day to achieve the independence you and I take for granted. If you want to make a difference, contact your Senators and Congressmen in Washington. Let them know that cuts to Medicaid will have a negative impact on the ability of your friends and neighbors with disabilities to achieve their independence!
C. Michael Hardesty is the president and CEO of Flying Colors of Success Inc., in Westminster. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.