Aug. 12th, 2009

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I've been thinking a lot in the past day or so about Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and what she accomplished in her life, and what it meant.

She was a forceful advocate for people with disabilities, most notably in her founding of Special Olympics, but in other ways as well. I found this article referenced in a piece on Bear in mind that it was written in 1962, at a time when those with mental and developmental disabilities were commonly institutionalized and hidden away. Some of the language in the article isn't quite what we would use today, but in the context of its time, it's quite a dramatic statement of support and possibility. She was also an advocate in other arenas, and pushed her political brothers to consider the issues of those with disabilities as well. (I believe I read yesterday that Ted Kennedy said, "We wouldn't have had an Americans With Disabilities Act without her.")

Some of you know that my brother has developmental disabilities. (It's not a condition with a name; we've never been sure what the specific cause is, though oxygen deprivation during gestation or birth seems to be the most likely.) He's participated in Special Olympics over time, especially in something called Unified Sports -- team sports in which half the team members have disabilities and half don't. His softball games were always a joy to watch. Summer after summer, you could see the players' confidence and abilities improve, and the social outlet was at least as important as the physical. It can be very lonely, I think, to be an adult with disabilities -- especially someone like my brother, who is high-functioning enough to live in his own apartment (with support), but doesn't have a solid social circle. The social support from an organization such as Special Olympics can be vital.

So I salute Mrs. Shriver and all her efforts. Today's facilities and possibilities for people with disabilities are tremendously better than they were 40 years ago, and her advocacy played a significant part in that change.


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