COMMENTARY: Celebrating our capabilities

March is National Disabilities Awareness Month. For many years people with disabilities were thought to be unable to live among their non-disabled peers in homes and apartments in the community.

In 1987, when the movement to de-institutionalize people began to pick up speed, President Ronald Reagan declared March a month to honor and celebrate people with developmental disabilities.

Now, 28 years later, as we continue to close institutions and integrate people with disabilities into our homes, schools and communities, we still fight certain stigmas.

“This person can’t take care of his or her apartment. This person will never fall in love and get married. This person won’t be able to hold down a community job."
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"People with disabilities, much like you and me, are unique."

— William J. Swiss

Benchmark Human Services

For nearly 30 years I have served as president of Benchmark Human Services (formerly AWS), an organization that strives to prove that people with disabilities can do all of these things and so much more.

Benchmark provides residential, vocational and community-based services throughout 10 states (including Connecticut) and Washington, D.C.

This year, Benchmark is celebrating Disabilities Awareness Month with a Facebook campaign, #UniqueLikeU (search Facebook for “Benchmark Human Services”), which aims to show that people with disabilities, much like you and me, are unique. They have their own interests and ambitions.

Accepted, valued and respected

What ties us all together is that we are human beings capable of many things, and we all want to be accepted, valued and respected for what we contribute to our families, our social circles, our communities, and society at large.

Our Disabilities Awareness Month Facebook campaign introduces you to real-life people with disabilities who enjoy everyday pleasures of life, just like you and me.

We hope you will follow us on Facebook to learn more about the people we are honored to serve — people like Lee and Lori, who are planning a 2016 wedding, or like Geoffrey, who enjoys going to work each day, or like Jackson, an average kid who enjoys Sponge Bob, Elmo and musical toys.

These people are your neighbors, your co-workers, your friends, your fellow human beings.

William J. Swiss is president of Benchmark Human Services, which is headquartered in Indiana and has an office on Research Drive in Shelton.