Life can be especially challenging for the one in seven American adults living with developmental disabilities. I want to share the story of one woman breaking the odds to live an independent life working, competing in Special Olympics competitions around the world, and advocating for her rights and those of people like her through People First. But before I tell you about Mona Sobieski, you should know the grim statistics that she is beating.
Everyone knows or has a family member with a disability. What happens when that support system is no longer there? The US Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Community Living states:
An estimated five million Americans have an intellectual or developmental disability. Over 75% of those receiving services live with their families, the family being the primary support system. The older adult population represents 14.1 % of the U.S. population, about one in every seven Americans. By 2040, there will 82.3 million older persons, over twice the number in 2020.
More than half the homes that are caring for people with developmental disabilities have caretakers approaching their senior years. The waiting lists for out of home care are growing, and many of these services are institutional and not equal to the home care. What needs to be done to make America a safe, healthy and productive country for all?
1. Start with early intervention to make sure that children diagnosed with disabilities are not defined by them. Currently 1 in 4 persons with developmental disabilities does not graduate from high school. Abilities should count more than disabilities, so let’s start counting them and strengthening them at an early age so that almost every American has both independent living skills and skills to contribute to the workforce.
2. Continue to create and support empowering programing for young adults such as People First and New Directions that provide socialization and train young adults to be advocates for themselves, especially for legislative policy assuring their rights to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
3. Employers need to receive benefits for employing adults with disabilities. “People with developmental disabilities are employed for an average of 3.5 years when given full time job as any other employees when given training. “ But the overall unemployment rate for this population is 82.2%. See 39 Incredible Developmentally Disabled Statistics.
4. Communal living centers that offer support , healthcare and transportation to job sites are desperately needed so that this population can live fully and contribute to society and the economy instead of living lonely, unproductive lives on social security.
Now let me tell you about Mona. Mona is a woman who has had the very best in family and social services since she was born with learning disabilities, balance issues and fine motor coordination disabilities. She graduated from St. Vincent’s School in Santa Barbara and attended some college after that at College of the Siskiyous and Feather River Community College. But let’s hear from Mona herself.
First of all, Mona does not like the term disability
“I live by the word Ability. I do everything independently. I drive, I ski, I have a job, I’m a horse owner and equestrian. I have worked almost 10 years at Kmart. I live independently with a housemate who works for the US Forrest Service as a Ranger. It’s a real learning experience for me. I learn to communicate – Yes, Mam, No Mam, No thank you, I don’t like that kind of food…We go out to eat a lot. We have girls night out and sit and talk.”
“I have a boyfriend, Steven, I met through People First in California. We are both on the State Board of People First. It’s an organization for people that teaches you to speak up and be heard. I’ll be meeting his family soon. We’ve been on trips to Europe, both France and Italy, with New Directions. He’s quite the gentleman. He pulls out my chair. He has a job too for Samsung Medical Center.”
“My goals are to qualify for the Austrian World Championship for skiing in 2018. Also in 2017, my boyfriend and I will be going on our third trip together through New Directions to Iceland!”
Mona is aware of her disabilities, but she has mastered them and is focused on her abilities which are many. Aside form her athletic abilities with world records through Special Olympics and other organizations in Skiing, Equestrian and Ice Skating, Mona lists her abilities as follows:
1. Committed and Diligent
8. Loves Animals
10. Adventurous Traveler
11. Able to Adapt in Foreign Countries
I would add Great American. America needs to find the value in all our people. Thanks for showing us all the way to success, Mona!