The Today Show ran a short piece recently on Jimmy Jenson, a 48 year old man with Down syndrome. He ran the New York City Marathon on Sunday and became the first person with Down syndrome to complete this landmark race. You can see the video by following this link:
This is no doubt a great achievement, but I wonder....Do we lift up these kinds of stories because we don't expect people with disabilities to succeed in ways like this? Are we celebrating Jimmy's greatness or our own willingness to admit that people are people and that “disability” is an imaginary barrier?
It seems that whenever a person with a disability accomplishes something or otherwise makes a difference in the world, we consider them to be extraordinary. Not just because what they did was extraordinary but because they did it WITH A DISABILITY. I came across a website recently that touted the “Top 10 Extraordinary People with Disabilities.” They included people like Van Gogh, Beethoven, Christy Brown, John Nash, Stephen Hawking, and Helen Keller. It wasn’t enough that these people created breathtaking music or inspiring artwork or intellectual breakthroughs in science and mathematics. It’s that they did it WITH A DISABILITY, as if the achievement would be less significant if they hadn’t had a disability.
So maybe, it is important that we lift up stories like the one involving Jimmy Jenson…because no one had ever heard of Jimmy Jenson before. It’s people like Jimmy who live in anonymity while they fight for their rights; struggle to be accepted in their communities; and persevere in the face of prejudice and doubt. That is what makes them extraordinary, not the accomplishments they achieve.
Lucy Daniel is the Policy Officer at CBM Australia, an international development agency that works with people with disabilities in the world's poorest countries. She once wrote, “I no longer focus solely on the problems faced by people with disabilities over the people themselves, because I can now see these problems in the context of everything that people with disabilities have and can achieve…I see a chance to celebrate the truth that each and every person living with disability has the potential to contribute hugely to their family and community.”
So, way to go, Jimmy…and keep on running.
Consultant, Central East Regional Group and UUA Liaison to Equual Access