With all the interest surrounding failed government-sponsored investment banks and tax-evading Treasury Securities, I fear we have been able to gloss over one of the biggest scandals of our lifetime.
I refer, of course, to the horrific conspiracy between Russell Stover and Hallmark to take a perfectly normal mid-winter day and turn it into an excuse to torment single individuals around the globe.
Now, you might wonder about the contempt I am showing for Valentine's Day, being myself in a happy marriage. I do value romance and love and intimate connections as some of the highest virtues that humans can attain. However, I have no appreciation for the apparent whim by which Cupid determines who to strike with his arrow and who to leave unattached. Specifically, I shudder at the obvious discrimination this half-dressed cherub shows against people with developmental disabilities.
When compared to the general population, individuals with developmental disabilities are far less likely to be involved in close, intimate relationships with others. Some causes of this discrepancy probably include lack of alone time, the history of institutionalization and the minimal authentic interactions that people with developmental disabilities tend to have with others in the wider community.
As an illustration, I ask that you join me in a brief exercise. You will need only a piece of paper and a writing utensil. On the paper, draw four concentric circles (one inside of the other). Make the circles large, as you will need to write in them.
In the centermost circle, write the names of your most intimate friends and family. This may include a spouse, parents, children or your very closest friends.
In the second circle, place the names of friends, close co-workers, more distant relatives - people with whom you have a fairly close connection or whom you see often.
The third circle should contain the names of acquaintances. These are people you know, but wouldn't be the first ones you'd call when your daughter needs another co-signer on a student loan.
The last, outermost circle is reserved for people who you pay for a service - your hairdresser, accountant, physician, chiropractor, etc.
Now look at your circle. Typically, you will find the most names in the first two circles. Obviously, this activity doesn't account for the quality of those relationships, but it should give you a pretty quick visual perspective of the relationships in your life.
For most individuals with developmental disabilities, the circles are backwards. Most of the people in their lives are either paid caregivers or casual acquaintances. Lots of community members might know them by name, but when it comes to intimate friendships and relationships, the circles are barren. People in the outermost circles may send you a generic postcard on your birthday, but they aren't calling you up to go out and get trashed, arrange a cruise for a milestone birthday or e-mailing you their own saga of how old they feel this year.
So, as I wish you all a happy and positive Valentine's Day, I issue you a challenge. Next Valentine's Day, I dare you to do this exercise again. When you do, I hope that you can add at least one individual with a developmental disability in your inner circles, knowing that you most assuredly will be added to theirs.
For more information on developing authentic relationships with individuals with disabilities, contact Community Connections at 259-2464.
Tara Kiene, is the director of case management with Community Connections, Inc.