With today being Martin Luther King Jr. day, a lot of people are thinking about and discussing racial equality. I would like to challenge everyone to think not only of racial equality today, but equality for those with special needs as well. Not to marginalize the racial inequality that plagues our country, but to shine a spotlight on inequality in general. This may make some people uncomfortable, but in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Did you know that most states do not have laws in place to protect people with Down Syndrome, and any other neurodevelopmental delay, from being discriminated against by organ transplant centers? While the Americans with Disabilities Act is supposed to protect people with disabilities from being discriminated against in a healthcare setting, it is rarely enforced, and discrimination is hard to prove. According to a 2008 survey of 88 transplant centers, 85% of pediatric transplant centers consider neurodevelopmental status as a factor in their determinations of eligibility (you can read the study here). Thankfully, several states have either passed bills or are in the process of trying to pass bills that will end this discrimination, but the majority of states still have no such protection.
Another way people with Down Syndrome face inequality is in regards to their independence. Antiquated laws prevent them from obtaining competitive careers, and even getting married without risk of losing important benefits such as SSDI and Medicaid. The only way they are able to save more than $2,000 without risk of losing benefits is to put their savings in the recently created ABLE accounts, but even these have savings limits and sometimes fees associated with them, depending on the state. In order for a person with a disability to continue receiving SSDI when they turn 18 they must either have work history, which can be hard to obtain due to lack of incentives for employers, among other reasons, or to be, and remain unmarried to anyone who does not have a disability. Telling someone who they can marry, as long as the marriage is not harming someone, is something I don’t think the government should be involved in, and I can’t help but think that our equality-driven society would agree with me.
Lastly, and the worst way people with Down Syndrome face inequality, is the right to be born. According to a 2015 study, the Down Syndrome population has been reduced by 30% due to Down Syndrome-related, elective abortions (this study can be found here). It is estimated that roughly 67% of pregnancies are terminated following a prenatal diagnosis (study here). If we can’t even guarantee people with Down Syndrome the right to be born, can they truly be considered equal? If we don’t speak out against the genocide that is being committed against people with Down Syndrome simply because they have an extra chromosome, can we truly say we believe in equality? The African American community has also been greatly devastated by abortion, and we should be fighting just as fervently for the rights of unborn, African American babies, as we are for those with Down Syndrome.
Again, this is not meant to marginalize racial inequality, but it is meant to bring awareness to the inequality problem this country, and world has. No one should face inequality based on something they can’t change, like the color of their skin, or the amount of chromosomes they have. We should live in a world where all people are truly treated as equals, and given the same rights and opportunities. We are making progress on both fronts, but there is still so much work to be done, and if we remain silent, we remain part of the problem.