Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month is in the midst of being celebrated, but Beth Friess believes that a lack of special recognition may not be so bad.
“It’s a positive thing, because we’re not recognizing people for their disability, we’re just accepting them as our neighbors and workers,” the Fulton County Board of DD superintendent said.
This year’s local theme for both the celebratory month and the whole of 2020 is “Acceptance Begins With A Smile,” an idea conceived by the local DD board’s office staff. It’s been placed on billboards in Wauseon, Archbold, and Swanton and featured in ads in newspapers and on the screen at Wauseon’s Skye Cinema. The theme is also included in a proclamation for DD Awareness Month provided by the Fulton County Commissioners.
Additionally, the Board of DD has extended thanks to various county offices and area churches for their support. “We know we can’t do it all by ourself,” Friess said.
She said the board provides a variety of activities for its clients throughout the year, although the current specter of coronavirus may curtail some. Special Olympics events have been suspended through the end of March; however, a series of four safety sessions scheduled for self advocates continues for now.
“I can’t predict what might happen. We certainly don’t want anyone to be at risk,” Friess said.
The theme, “Acceptance Begins With A Smile,” was selected because “we believe this theme really speaks to who we are,” she said. “Fulton County embodies this theme of acceptance.”
Friess said the level of acceptance of the developmentally disabled has improved considerably over the past 20 or 30 years. She said if Fulton County’s disabled are the victims of bullying or cruelty over their differences it’s not apparent.
“Any of us at one point or another might feel discriminated against,” she said. “My hope is that they don’t feel more discriminated than anybody else in society today. The goal for everybody is that they’re involved in the same community events that you and I are. And part of that is the acceptance. Everybody can do the same things.”
There are still people in the community who may hesitate to interact with the developmentally disabled, but that may simply be because they don’t understand, Friess said, adding, “Sometimes, we need to assist people with an understanding.”
If she has one message for the county community, it’s that she would like to see people continue to show the acceptance the disabled have come to appreciate and expect.
“We are all more similar than we are different,” Friess said. “We don’t think of an ‘us’ and a ‘them’. We’re all just us.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.