The tone of Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month has been somewhat muted this March due to COVID-19, but the Fulton County Board of Developmental Disabilities raised its voice in recognition where it could.
“We kind of looked at this year a bit differently, and what could we do because we weren’t pulling lots of people together,” Board of DD Superintendent Beth Friess said. “We’re just trying to show that wide range of people that are involved in supporting people with developmental disabilities.”
Since live celebratory events became taboo during the COVID pandemic, the Board of DD got creative to get out the word about the people it serves.
To that end, the facility proclaimed Developmental Disability Awareness Month on its exterior sign, then invited people to pose with it and post their photos on the Board of DD Facebook page. The challenge was accepted by board and staff members and residents in the community.
To work around the limitations COVID set for the annual March 21 recognition of World Down Syndrome Day, the board’s traditional “Rock Your Socks” event – wearing wild or colorful socks to represent the occasion – went remote, featuring photos by those who participated.
The board also ran individualized advertisements in local newspapers to spread the idea that those with developmental disabilities are everywhere in society. And the board released its annual report.
“In this case, we were really trying to share what it looked like for us to continue to support people with developmental disabilities during the pandemic,” Friess said. “We tried to do that in a variety of ways because we could do nothing in person.”
The Board of DD also made headway with Zoom meetings among a self-advocacy group it had created prior to the pandemic. “The idea of self-advocacy is to help people to learn to speak up for themselves, to talk about who they are,” Friess said. “Just to learn to advocate more for themselves.”
During the pandemic the group of developmentally disabled persons has met online mostly for fun activities such as Bingo, an online trip to a Texas animal sanctuary, and a visit from an Elvis impersonator. “We’ve done fun things with this group during this time as we continue to try to pull people together,” Friess said.
And while those of school age with developmental disabilities are serviced in their schools, about 65 children under three years old participate online in an early intervention program.
Friess said the remote participation has yielded some advantages, leading the Board of DD to consider developing a hybrid home visit-Zoom program. “Now we think, ongoing, people will have more options than they had before,” she said.
Developmentally disabled adults are serviced at Triangular Processing in Wauseon.
The most widely-accepted misconception about disabled people is what the general public believes they can and cannot do, Friess said.
“I think there’s not an understanding that, no matter who we are, we have a place in the community, we have a lot to offer, and it doesn’t matter what the disability is. Everybody has something to offer,” she said.
Friess said the Board of DD’s theme, “Acceptance begins with a smile,” can influence community members to assume whomever they may see is like everyone else, even the 350 developmentally disabled people the county’s Board of DD serves.
“We all are different in some way, but in the same way we’re all the same,” she said. “Everybody wants a smile. Everybody wants to interact with everybody else. Don’t make any assumptions. I think sometimes we do that with everybody. And everybody deserves to be accepted, no matter who they are. Make sure that people who live in Fulton County are very much a part of their community, and that they’re not separate.“
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.