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Column - Learn from the 'diverse'

Today's Life section features a story about diversity. When people think of diversity, they often think of differences in skin color or maybe religion. But this article focuses on a different type of diversity - disabilities.

Today's Life section features a story about diversity. When people think of diversity, they often think of differences in skin color or maybe religion. But this article focuses on a different type of diversity - disabilities.

In the article, the Diversity Resource Action Alliance (DRAA) noted that when a family member has a disability, it may affect the family's quality of life.

There's no doubt that having a family member with a disability is a challenge for the entire family. Parents struggle to deal with the fact that their child isn't going to be whatever he or she wants to be when they grow up. Parents may blame themselves or each other for the situation. They may focus all their time and attention on the child and forget to work on their relationship with each other. Divorce statistics are elevated among families that include a child with a disability.

If there are other children in the family, a whole new set of fears, worries and issues arise. Parents may worry that the children will be overburdened by the needs of the disabled child. They try to make sure they are giving their other children the time and attention they need, while still meeting the demanding needs of the disabled child.

I grew up with a sister with a disability. Affected by cerebral palsy at birth, she doesn't walk, has a very limited vocabulary, limited motor skills, and will never be able to care for herself.

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I have no idea how my parents dealt with that. I wasn't around when Tracy was born, because she's three years older than I am. Our older brother was only a couple years old at the time.

Throughout my childhood, of course I knew my sister was different, but I honestly never spent much time thinking about it. My parents did such an incredible job making it seem so normal, that I just took it in stride. I never felt like I missed out on a thing because I had a disabled sister. I never felt like my parents paid more attention to her than to me. I never felt like she was more special.

There have been times, as an adult, when I have wondered if I should have felt more guilty. Should I have felt bad that I went about my "normal" activities, enjoying things my sister would never be able to do? From participating in sports and going out with friends in high school to getting married and having children - all were things my sister could never do, and I never really felt guilty about that.

Do I wish my sister would have been born healthy and able to live her life without a disability? Of course - but for her sake, not mine. I didn't miss out on anything because she was disabled - she was my sister and I loved her just as she was. I never needed her to be anything different.

Do I ever feel sorry for my sister? No - never. There's nothing to feel sorry for. I truly believe she is happy. She has great parents who have always been there to take care of her needs and love her completely and unconditionally.

She has a brother and sister who pulled the typical mean sibling pranks on her just as much as they did on each other, so she didn't miss out on those "memories."

She's lived her own life, going to school and now living in a group home and working at a job she loves. She has friends and family who all realize that she wasn't a "mistake" or someone to look at with pity. There's nothing at all to pity. I don't believe Tracy has one regret about her life. In fact, I often think she's always been quite secure in who she is and what her purpose is. Not too many of us can say that.

Next time you encounter someone with a disability, don't look at them with pity or sadness or disgust. Look at them for who they are, and what they have to offer. Let them teach you about true joy and unconditional love - I guarantee you they know way more about those things than the rest of us ever will.

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The following is an opinion column written by an Echo Press editorial staff member. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.
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