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Lack of acceptance an issue of ignorance

Letter to the Editor | Sunday, November 16, 2008

Yesterday, I was shocked and saddened by Colin Keeler’s gross misjudgment (“Learning to laugh,” Nov. 12) of what is considered an acceptable subject to “poke fun at.” Colin, acceptable topics to poke fun at are that you are “elated” when SUB is showing a certain movie or that you actually use the phrase, “I hate to break the news.” You see, Colin, I can make fun of you, because – even though you are just a freshman – you can choose to respond and defend yourself. In addition to your capability of responding, no matter how weakly, you can also understand the humor that I am aiming at you. People with special needs can neither defend themselves, nor even understand the jokes being told at their expense. That is the difference between “poking fun” at the mentally handicapped and doing so at any ethnic, religious or sexually oriented group; regardless of whether your jokes are offensive, those groups of people have the opportunity to either protest or laugh along with you. Persons with special needs are never laughing with us, we are laughing at them. That is why it is degrading.Of course, Colin, your ignorance is not completely your fault. I have noticed in Viewpoint that the advocates of developmentally disabled persons are almost exclusively siblings or family members of someone with special needs (this being no exception – my younger brother has autism and Downs Syndrome). This is probably due to a past tradition of segregating the mentally handicapped from the rest of society. Most Catholic schools cannot or choose not to afford a special education program, while public schools, until recently, have kept the children with special needs in a classroom together, apart from the “normal” children. This separation leads to a loss of respect, dignity and understanding of a whole segment of our society. And, equally as important, a lost opportunity to discover gifts of our own and of others who are “differently labeled.” It’s no wonder family members are the main advocates of persons with special needs – no one else has gotten a chance to experience these amazing people!Fortunately, children of more recent years will not be denied this chance, at least not in the public schools. (The Catholic schools, regardless of funding, still only take “normal” children, because Christ loves the bright, beautiful and talented students the most). Inclusion programs are becoming a norm in public education, and are immensely benefitting both the mentally handicapped and regular education children. Our country’s public school setting, without any intention of living out Christian values, offers all its students the opportunity to learn to accept others and appreciate each others’ gifts. Hopefully someday schools that do boast Christian values will at least attempt to live up to this standard as well.Anyway, Colin, I understand that you are just na’ve. I honestly encourage you, and anyone else who has not had a relationship with someone who is developmentally disabled, to overcome your ignorance and get involved in some of the many programs on and off campus that give you the chance to interact with them. I promise, doing so will change your perspective and possibly your life. My younger brother’s unassuming lessons of patience and love have inspired me more than anyone else ever can; like the siblings of other recent Viewpoint writers, he is an angel on earth who we all can benefit and learn from, not laugh at.

Liz Froehlkesenioroff campusNov. 12