Seems like I encounter disabilities all around me. Last fall, I bought a new mattress. In conversation with the store owner, I noted that I had a son with ID/D. Turns out his daughter has Down Syndrome. I gave him a recommendation to the local Arc chapter’s REACT program. In December, I had work done on my septic system. The electrician who checked out the sump pump has a girlfriend whose son has Down Syndrome. The guy handling the pumping truck has a nephew with autism. Almost any time I mention my son to someone, they also have a connection to ID/D.

In January, the local chapter of the American Marketing Association had a program focused on diversity in marketing, particularly as it relates to disabilities. The speaker, Josh Loebner, described the many ways that businesses are addressing disabilities in their products and their advertising. Josh himself is legally blind, having one eye of glass and very poor vision in the other eye. The moderator for the luncheon had to handle calling on audience members during the Q&A session after the talk because Josh couldn’t see the raised hands. But if he hadn’t told us he was blind, I don’t think we’d have known.

According to Josh, one in four people in Alabama have a disability of some type. Prevalence of ID/D is not that high, though the range varies widely depending on what’s being counted as an intellectual disability and who’s being measured. Generally speaking, the rates are higher in children of color and children of lower socio-economic status, with numbers reaching as high as 2.5 percent on average.

I think sometimes we parents of children with special needs tend to think we’re alone. At least I felt that way in the early days after we received our son’s diagnosis. Even after we got connected to special needs school programs and parent support groups, there was still a feeling of some isolation. But my years of involvement with The Arc have helped me see that such disabilities are much more common than I had imagined. and as more parents are taking their children with special needs out in public with them, as I do with mine when we go grocery shopping together, that commonness becomes even more apparent.

The changes in products and advertising discussed in Josh Loebner’s talk are also helping people see how common such disabilities are and how “normal” people with disabilities really are. Additionally, we’re seeing TV shows and movies about people with disabilities and featuring people with disabilities. These changes in our culture are gradually changing perceptions and acceptance.

Disabilities are truly all around us. Now, if only we could get politicians to see that and understand how the rights and needs of people with disabilities should be addressed and protected. In this election year, keep that in mind when selecting candidates to vote for.