Stroud column: Recognizing the ‘differently abled’ among us | PostIndependent.com

Stroud column: Recognizing the ‘differently abled’ among us

I'm not one to "dis" any of my fellow humankind, as in disrespect. But there's one "dis" I'm perfectly fine "dissing" on, because it's all about respect.

This Wednesday, the Post Independent will launch a monthly series of articles in cooperation with the organization Valley Life for All to build awareness about people in our community who have disabilities.

The goal: "To take the 'dis' out of disability."

Each month, thanks to Debbie Wilde and her team at VLFA, we will share a story about someone in our community who, rather than being disabled, simply has different abilities.

These profiles will tell the stories of people of all ages who have gifts to share, and who, given the chance, are perfectly capable of contributing in many ways.

Whether it's working a regular job, volunteering for any of the many human service organizations in our midst, participating in sports or other activities, serving on nonprofit boards and government committees, or just helping to make us all smile, all should be included.

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And that's what the VLFA's Inclusion Campaign is all about.

VLFA has been around since 2011, working in Garfield, Pitkin and Eagle counties "to build inclusive communities where people of all abilities belong and contribute."

Its mission: To be a conduit to resources and embrace new opportunities that support choice for people with disabilities, or as we like to say, people with all abilities, their families and communities.

According to national statistics, 27 percent of Americans experience some type of disability, whether physical, developmental, mental or emotional.

"One hundred percent are a part of our community. Each has a story to tell," says VLFA through it's #voiceability Inclusion Campaign.

Last week, Debbie stopped by the Post Independent office with Corey Mineo. Many of you likely know Corey, or at least have seen him around. He lives in downtown Glenwood Springs, is a regular at the Bluebird Cafe, and he gets around in a power wheelchair.

The two-year-long Grand Avenue Bridge construction project has been difficult for a lot of people trying to navigate their way around downtown Glenwood. Just imagine how difficult it's been for Corey and others who use wheelchairs, are blind, or who have other challenges just "getting around."

We've editorialized on this very page that Glenwood Springs and the Colorado Department of Transportation must do everything possible to put pedestrians first when completing the Grand Avenue intersections at Eighth and Ninth streets. This is a particularly important issue for people who face special challenges just crossing the street.

What better voice to add to the community conversation than influential people like Corey.

"People with disabilities are often thought of as particularly inspirational," says Erik Weihenmayer, renowned outdoor adventurer who was the first blind person to summit Mt. Everest.

"It is well-intended," he says. "I appreciate it, but it does, in a way, separate us.

"There are a lot of inspirational people out there … at one level, all of our experiences are the same. These are the kinds of experiences that are the glue that holds us together — family, love, pain — things we all experience."

The goal of the Inclusion Campaign, and the forthcoming profiles in the Post Independent and Citizen Telegram, is to give voice to people with "disabilities" so that they can educate and empower us to change some of the stereotypical perceptions we hold.

By sharing real-life stories, we hope to show that we all have more in common than we have differences, to increase awareness and understanding about what inclusion is, and what it isn't, and to "demystify" what it's like to live with a disability. Excuse me, different abilities.

Through this Inclusion Campaign, VLFA also seeks to provide inclusion training for any organizations or businesses that want to improve interaction with clients and prospective employees who, with some understanding and slight modifications, can fully participate in our community.

If successful, "People will understand that we have stronger communities when we embrace all people as having the ability to contribute to the common good."

That success depends on all of us.

For more information about Valley Life For All, its Inclusion Campaign and its many services, visit its website at https://valleylifeforall.org

John Stroud is editor of the Post Independent.