Every person either has had, or continues to have, at least one challenge in life. Some challenges are visible, and others are not. Some challenges are temporary or long-term, while others last a lifetime.
Who wants to be treated differently than everyone else because of their challenge? No one.
A person with a challenge – such as a physical, emotional, social or mental disability – is a person – and deserves to be treated as one would treat any person. As you would want other people to treat you.
The American Legion Auxiliary (ALA), the world’s largest women’s patriotic service organization, welcomes into its membership women from various backgrounds to join the Auxiliary and unite with other members under the common mission of honoring and helping our veterans, military, and their families, and fostering patriotism and civics among our youth. Those various backgrounds include, but are not limited to, people with differing levels of abilities as well as people of all races, nationalities, religions, socio-economic groups, age groups, and cultures.
There’s diversity in our membership AND diversity among the people we serve. And we’re proud of that! We know that different perspectives among individuals help sharpen our vision as an organization. ALA sees the strength in each person, and not in the labels placed on a person by society.
Consider this true story involving ALA member Beth Castle of Unit 203 in Latonia, Ky. and a new ALA member:
Beth noticed when this new member walked into one of the unit’s mission outreach events, and Beth did what comes naturally to her. She flashed her friendly, sincere smile she has come to be known for, and introduced herself.
The two women chatted for a bit and had a great time while doing ALA mission outreach work. Feeling genuinely welcomed and comfortable, the new member stayed for the event, and, over time, became more active in the Auxiliary. The two women have remained friends.
Reasonable people would agree that this sort of small gesture made by Beth generated goodwill and demonstrated her kindness.
Does that impression of Beth change when one discovers that she has an intellectual disability? It shouldn’t. And within the American Legion Auxiliary, it doesn’t.
Because of her intellectual disability, should Beth be treated differently than other ALA members? Absolutely not!
What matters is that Beth does what she can to work with her unit toward ALA’s mission – despite having a busy schedule with her job and other volunteer duties. What matters is that Beth exhibits goodwill among those in her unit and among those served by the Auxiliary.
And what else matters is that Beth knows she’s welcomed, respected, and appreciated in ALA.
“They are kind and nice to me,” Beth said when asked about her fellow unit members. “I like to talk to them. I make friends, and we all like to help people.”
Within their unit, Beth is popular – not pitied. “She brings her dedication, her great personality, and her smile to the meetings and events she attends,” said Unit 203 President Lori Acuff.
Beth’s mother, Jan, also a member of Unit 203, agrees with Acuff.
“At our unit, the other ALA members have gotten to see who Beth is and how she likes to help people, and our unit members have grown to really like Beth. It’s the reality that there are people from all different walks of life out in the world, and you’ll see that each of those people probably has something to offer – once you take the time to see what’s inside of a person’s heart.
“Yes, you may have to make accommodations to provide access for people with disabilities. But that doesn’t mean you have to treat people with disabilities any differently than you’d treat anyone else,” Jan added. “Be kind. Be friendly. Make any needed accommodation(s) in a respectful way. But please, keep the focus on the person – not the disability.”