Monday, March 10, 2008

Raising Awareness about the Abilities of the Disabled

By Simona Vogel

March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month and organizations in Athens County are trying to let people know about their work and how to get involved.

A festival at the Athens Community Center helped to start this month right, presenting a show and bringing people with disabilities together with others in the community. About 150 people enjoyed dance, poetry, art displays and more.
This was the 6th annual event, and Inclusion Coordinator Jeff Bierlein definitely saw it as a success.

Inclusion Coordinator Jeff Bierlein talks about the necessity to raise awareness.

Bierlein pointed out that raising awareness helps the community to see that people with disabilities are not very different at all.

"They wanna have good friends, they wanna get married, some of them wanna have kids, they want good jobs, they wanna do fun things, they wanna have enough money to do those fun things. So, to be honest, they are totally, totally the same as you or I," he said.

Organizations in the Area
There are a several organizations in Athens that try to help and integrate people with disabilities into the community. Some of them help to find jobs for people with disabilities, others bring out the artists in them. All of them rely on volunteers to help with the work.

Two very successful examples:

Passion Works
Passion Works Studio helps to bring people with and without developmental disabilities together to create art. The studio started in 1998 and has become quite famous in the area for it's unique 'Passion Flower'. Made of aluminum and painted bright colors, you can see them in many buildings in Athens such as the Baker Center or the Athens Community Center. Artists also get the opportunity to sell their work and earning their own money.

How to volunteer:
Visit the website of Passion Works, fill out a volunteer application or contact studio coordinator Joyce Frank at 740-592-669.

PersonnelPlus has been around since 1983 and, like Passion Works, is a division of Atco, Inc.. It helps to "train and place workers with disabilities in entry-level jobs that match the skills and abilities of the individual, while meeting the employment needs of a business". At the moment PersonnelPlus has more than 70 workers with disabilities working in 40 businesses in Athens County.

How to volunteer:
Visit Atco, Inc. on 21 S. Campbell Street or call at 740-592-6659 to get involved and indicate that you want to work with PersonnelPlus. Atco serves as the "umbrella" for different organizations, also including Passion Works.

Jeff Bierlein says that all in all Athens is a very "embracing" town for people with disabilities because of the number of young and educated people.

Jeff Bierlein talks about the situation in Athens and how to approach people with disabilities.

But still Bierlein says, there's always possibility to do more, "We have to keep creating possibilities for people with disabilities and people without disabilities to be together, so that those barriers can be broken down."

He also gives a piece of advice for people who are uncertain about how to act around people with developmental disabilities.

"Reach out. You know, if you see someone with a disability don't be afraid of him, talk to him."

Passion Works
The Arc of Ohio
The American Association on Mental Retardation

What are Developmental Disabilities?
The American Association on Mental Retardation defines it as a disability, beginning before the age of 18, that significantly limits both intelligence and adaptive skills. It is not a medical condition or a mental illness, but it can coexist with a mental illness. Mental disabilities can be caused by a wide variety of factors, including genetic conditions, pregnancy-related issues, problems during and after childbirth, and exposure to poisonous chemicals.

How do people with those disabilities feel?
While everyone is different, one of the poems read at the festival might serve as an insightful look. The poem is written by Joanna Burns with help from her writing partner Ellen Van Zante.

The Glass Box

by Joanna Burns
The Glass Box

Makes me think of

The glass casket in Snow White.

But this isn't a fairy tale.

This is how life is,

Trapped in this box with no way out.

I try to understand

What goes on outside,

Pretending to be real,

Like there is no glass box.

I can't hear what people are saying.

It always sounds like something else.

I'm on one side of the wall,

The whole world is on the other.


I find a whole in the wall,

A hole in the glass box,

And I can finally hear

And understand what those people

On the other side are saying.

They, too, can understand me.

There are not many holes.

The holes are nearly too small for my words.

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