March is “Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month” and Jessica Roland, Patricia Calloway and Shari Rognstad are just a few of those in Ashe County who are raising awareness and making a difference in the lives of those living with developmental disabilities.
“Ashe County, like every other county, has a need for services for people with disabilities,” Rognstad, executive director for Summit Support Services of Ashe, Inc., said.
“Ability to Work”
The N.C. Council on Developmental Disabilities (NCCDD) and other related organizations celebrate “Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month” each March ever since former President Ronald Reagan signed the first proclamation in 1987.
According to the National Institutes of Health, developmental disabilities are defined as long-term problems that affect physical and/or mental functions. Autism, Down Syndrome and certain learning disorders are a few examples.
“During ‘Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month’, we encourage people to learn more about the 172,000 people in N.C. who have developmental disabilities and to recognize that all of us have talents and abilities that we can offer in our workplaces and communities that make this a better place to live,” Chair of the NCCDD Ron Reeve said.
This year’s theme is “Ability at Work.”
According to NCCDD Director for Systems Change Management Kelly Bohlander, “Ability at Work” encourages people to understand that when people with disabilities are welcomed into local neighborhoods, workplaces, houses of worship and schools, everyone wins.”
The awareness month is designed to help people become better acquainted with someone who has a developmental disability and to learn that everyone has something to offer, a concept that rings true with Roland, a teacher at Ashe Developmental Day School (ADDS).
Roland’s classroom serves as a model for what the NCCDD wants to see accomplished - children of different abilities, coexisting in the same environment under the same set of circumstances.
ADDS is a nonprofit educational facility that provides an inclusive learning environment for children with developmental disabilities and children without, ages 6 weeks to 6 years.
Roland’s classroom of 20 includes 10 students with “identified needs” and 10 without.
“When I have a visitor in my classroom, I want them to see a group of children playing together in all parts of the room,” Roland said. “This is because they are children, first and foremost.”
“It’s very important to focus on the person first and not their disability as their defining attribute, Roland said. “As a community, we need to be teaching our youth and each other to show kindness and respect to all people.”
Last September, close to 500 people turned out for the inaugural “Buddy Walk of the High Country,” a fundraiser for families with loved ones who have Down Syndrome.
Close to $15,000 was raised with $800 going to the National Down Syndrome Society.
According to Patricia Calloway, executive director for Ashe Services for Aging, in West Jefferson and co-organizer of the “Buddy Walk,” the second-annual “Buddy Walk of the High Country” is tentatively scheduled for Sept. 13 at Ashe County High School.
Calloway also said “Dine-Out for Down Syndrome” is scheduled from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Monday, March 31, at Pizza Hut.
Summit Support Services provides state-funded and Medicaid services for adults with developmental disabilities.
They manage two residential group homes and a day program.
“Acceptance and awareness is always an issue,” said Rognstad. “People in Ashe County have been very accepting, patient and kind, at least with the people we support.”
Alan Bulluck can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @albulluck.