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Why inclusion of all disabilities matters

By Robyn DesJardins, program director, Global Business Services at Cardinal Health

Today, July 26, is the 32nd Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). According to the U.S. Department of Justice, “The ADA is one of America’s most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else” in all areas of public life, including schools, jobs, and transportation, and any areas that are open to the general public.

The ADA is so important because the Civil Rights Act, passed in 1965, excluded people with disabilities. It took 25 more years of advocacy from people of all abilities, continually demanding rights for those with disabilities, to get the ADA passed. Ultimately, the ADA was modeled after the Civil Rights Act.

I have the wonderful opportunity to work for a company that embraces and encourages diversity at all levels – diversity of thought, race, background, experience, gender, age – the list can go on. But most near and dear to me is diversity of ability. I am very involved with Cardinal Health’s Disability Advocates Network (DAN) Employee Resource Group (ERG), whose mission is to create an environment where Cardinal Health can attract, retain and leverage the talents of employees with disabilities and support the engagement of those employees by removing barriers that may limit their success.

Through this work, I have the great honor of meeting and learning from those with disabilities and to connect with others who are passionate about disability inclusion. Our DAN ERG fosters an environment of compassion, inclusion and empathy and works to de-stigmatize disabilities in the workplace. A big piece of moving forward with this mission is through storytelling. The more we openly talk about disabilities and how they impact us, the more we can understand, relate and connect with one another. As we educate ourselves as an organization about the wide array of disabilities, both visible and hidden, we create the space for our teammates to speak up if they have a need.

If you have not had the opportunity to love or befriend someone with a disability, you are possibly missing out on meeting someone pretty amazing. I know this firsthand. My family and I have been blessed with three wonderful children. Our oldest child, Maxwell, has Down syndrome. Down syndrome, also known as trisomy 21 (which means that a person has three copies chromosome 21 instead of two), is a type of disability that causes delays in overall development – physically, socially, and cognitively. While there are challenges that come with being a special needs parent, what I’ve learned most over the past 11 years is that a disability does not define or limit a person. Like others with disabilities, Maxwell has so much ABILITY to share when given the chance and the right support.

Over the course of Maxwell’s life, my husband and I have found ourselves advocating on his behalf many times. I never anticipated that it would be a challenge finding a daycare facility that would accept him. But there we were, 10 years ago with our cute little baby, trying to convince childcare providers that he was the sweetest 12-month-old they’d ever meet. We were turned away, over and over again, simply because of his diagnosis. Later, we found ourselves spending lots of time talking with teachers and principals, advocating on Maxwell’s behalf to be included with his peers. We knew Maxwell could learn, grow and develop; he just needed the right support to help him succeed. And he has succeeded! We are so fortunate to have found an amazing school that sees his potential in the same way we do. When given the opportunity, Maxwell has proven he can be successful like his classmates, can make friends and can learn academics. When we better understand the barriers that exist for him, we can be proactive in removing those challenges to allow his abilities to really shine and for others to see his sweet, fun and ornery personality.

We know that as Maxwell continues to grow and engage in different environments throughout the years, we will be called on to advocate for his rights – and his right to belong – again and again. Everyone deserves a chance to succeed and be seen for the whole person they are – and not their diagnosis. This is why I will continue to be a champion for disability inclusion and rights both in my personal life and in my workplace. When given the opportunity and proper support, people of all abilities can make a positive impact on their communities and organizations.  

Today, as we reflect on the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it’s important to remember those who worked so hard to make their voices heard to make positive change for individuals with disabilities.

Fortunately for me, my colleagues and my family, we live in a time that better embraces those who have disabilities, and we have access to more resources and support than we would have had 30 years ago. While there has been much progress, we know there is more work to do. And when all of us share our stories and make our voices heard, we will continue to remove barriers and make our communities and businesses accessible to all abilities.

I dream of a future – for my son and for all people with disabilities – where everyone is truly accepted, included and valued for who they are, and have plenty of opportunities where their unique gifts and talents can really make them shine.