Articles Posted in Intellectual Disability

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Thanks to a recently passed law, the U.S. government will have to address the issues facing those with disabilities when hurricanes, fires, and disaster strike. President Trump signed the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness and Advancing Innovation Act on June 24.   As part of this law, an Advisory Council will be created, which will include members with disabilities, as well as government officials and healthcare professionals. This Council will focus on preparing for ways to support individuals with disabilities during disasters.

U.S. Rep, Jim Langevin, a Democrat from Rhode Island, who has a disability himself, proposed the advisory panel. He said, “[b]y including people with disabilities as advisors during disaster planning and policy development, this bill ensures that the unique needs of this vulnerable community will be included.” The Government Accountability Office recently released a report showing that those with disabilities and those over 65 years old “faced particular challenges evacuating to safe shelter, accessing medicine and obtaining recovery assistance.”

Another issue for those with disabilities during times of disaster is that they are often unnecessarily institutionalized due to lack of access to resources, amongst other reasons. Hopefully, this Advisory Council will begin to address critical issues facing those with disabilities when disasters strike.

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Many students with intellectual disabilities never make it to college. However, the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency is trying to change this issue. This year, Georgia Tech introduced its EXCEL (Expanding Career, Education and Leadership Opportunities) four-year program. In its first year, this program had seven students with intellectual disabilities, who have birth defects or traumatic brain injuries. These students received certificates of achievement in academics, social skills, leadership, and career development, instead of a typical diploma.

EXCEL’s acceptance rate is about 25% and is a four-year program, unlike many inclusive programs in Georgia which are one or two years long. It was founded by Terry Blum, former Dean of the Scheller College of Business, and Cyrus Aidun, founding director of Georgia Tech’s Institute for Leadership and Entrepreneurship. These students have been fully part of the Georgia Tech community, cheering for the Yellow Jackets at sports games, joining many clubs, and spending late nights studying in the library. They also take regular Georgia Tech courses such as psychology and business, in addition to special classes such as cooking and budgeting.

Programs, such as that at Georgia Tech, are becoming more common in Georgia colleges and universities. Kennesaw State started the first inclusive program in Georgia in 2009, with three students. This past year, there were 140 students with intellectual disabilities enrolled at nine Georgia colleges and universities, including at the University of Georgia and Georgia State University. This is a promising trend, as only 15% of individuals with intellectual disabilities are employed nationwide. However, 75% of the graduates of the Georgia campus programs are employed or continuing their educations. Susanna Miller-Raines, statewide coordinator for the Georgia Inclusive Post-secondary Education Consortium, commented: “I’m not sure of all the answers, but this is one answer.” To learn more about the EXCEL program at Georgia Tech, click here.

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March is Trisomy Awareness month and is dedicated to promoting awareness of this condition. Trisomy 21, known as Down syndrome, is a genetic disorder that is characterized by the presence of three chromosomes, instead of the normal pair of chromosomes. Down syndrome is the most commonly known trisomy disorder. The other two disorders are Patau Syndrome or Trisomy 13, and Edwards syndrome or Trisomy 18.

Down syndrome is one of the most common genetic birth defects. In the United States, it is believed to affect as many as one in 800 people. The condition is characterized by unique facial characteristics, impairment in intellectual and mental functioning, and other birth defects.  Also, as many as 50% of all babies born with Down syndrome are diagnosed with a heart defect. Children born with Trisomy 21 can also be at risk for intestinal malformation which may necessitate surgeries. They may also be at risk for hearing trouble, as well as several types of vision problems, including near or far-sightedness and cataracts.

Qualifying for disability benefits for a child diagnosed with Down syndrome will depend on the type of Down syndrome that the child suffers from. The most common form is called non-Mosaic Down syndrome, a condition in which the child has an extra chromosome 21 in every cell. The other type is Mosaic Down syndrome in which some cells have the Trisomy 21 chromosome, and some cells have a regular number of chromosomes.

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Persons who suffer from mental disabilities and are eligible for Social Security benefits could find the agency using a different name for these conditions. The agency has indicated that it intends to change its use of the term “mental retardation,” and switch to “intellectual disability.”

That proposal comes more than 2 years after a federal rule requiring a change in language to refer to these terms in all federal health, education as well as labor policies. However, Social Security is not really required to implement those changes too.

People who suffer from these mental conditions have for long insisted that the language used to refer to these conditions be changed in order to be more sensitive, and less offensive to these people. The term “mental retardation” has almost disappeared from the American lexicon, as people become more sensitive to the concerns of people who suffer from mental challenges. Therefore, it only seems appropriate that the Social Security Administration be more sensitive and also adopt the language changes.