EDITOR’S NOTE: The following post is a guest post from Mary Davis, Acting CEO of Special Olympics.
Today, as on every 10 December, our global society recognizes and celebrates the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Day. A day in which we, as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says, “Recommit to guaranteeing the fundamental freedoms protecting the human rights of all.”
Make no mistake, a guarantee of that magnitude is a large undertaking. It is a goal that by the very nature of being human each of us simply must be invested in actively working toward.
At Special Olympics we use the power of sports to help people with intellectual disabilities discover new strengths and abilities, skills and successes. Our athletes find joy, confidence and fulfillment — on the playing field and in life.
Yet our athletes often find roadblock after roadblock in their everyday lives that prevent them from finding that joy, from discovering those abilities.
What’s the biggest roadblock?
The stigma and intolerance of being perceived as different.
I hear stories everyday from all corners of the world – both developed and non – about a lack of access to health care, education and social services. All things that millions, if not billions, of people around the world take for granted as accessible.
More often than not the reasons I hear for this lack of access involve a lack of understanding or willingness to include people perceived as different.
This stigma and intolerance is persistent everywhere.
On 8 December BBC News reported that in 2011 a man named Andrew Waters was wrongly assigned a “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) order while he was a patient at Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital in Margate, Kent in England.
Among the reasons listed for Andrew’s DNR according to the BBC’s report were his “learning difficulties and Down syndrome.”
The BBC went on to report that no one in the Waters’ family was consulted or made aware of the DNR during Andrew’s stay in 2011. The family only found out because they found a note about it in Andrew’s belongings after he was discharged.
Sadly, Andrew passed away this past May at age 53 from causes separate from the issuing of the 2011 DNR. Only recently has the hospital taken responsibility by admitting they breached Andrew’s human rights and apologized to the family.
It’s worth noting that Andrew’s story took place in a highly developed nation, in a town with a tourist visitation website that boasts about “artistic charm” “traditional holiday-town charm” “world class art galleries” “sandy beaches” and a “cool café culture.” According to the site, “Margate is in the midst of a cultural renaissance. It’s exciting, it’s energising and you’re invited to take part.”
The harsh reality for many people with intellectual disabilities is the invitation to take part simply isn’t extended to them.
This is where it is up to us to make a difference.
The violation of Andrew Waters’ human rights should be a wake-up call to the persistent absence of value afforded to people with intellectual disabilities.
It is imperative that individuals, communities and governments act at all times to ensure people with intellectual disabilities enjoy the same rights and protections as everyone else. We need your help to fight the stigma and intolerance facing people with intellectual disabilities around the world.
So on this UN Human Rights Day, help stand up for Andrew and the nearly 200 million people around the world with intellectual disabilities that he represents.
You can start making a difference right now. Share this post on your social media platforms with the hashtag #HumanRightsDay to help raise awareness about our urgent work. Join us in your local community by visiting www.specialolympics.org.
Most importantly, know that it’s the little gestures that will end the stigma and intolerance. So the next time you get to interact with a person with an intellectual disability be sure that whatever you are doing, you invite them to take part.