Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason D. Greenblatt.
(photo credit: WHITE HOUSE)
Earlier this week, an op-ed in the official Palestinian Authority daily Al-Hayat al-Jadida made a personal offense against Jason Greenblatt, assistant to US President Trump and Special Representative for International Negotiations.
Omar Hilmi Al-Ghoul, a regular columnist and the previous adviser to former PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad called Greenblatt a “mongoloid” and likened his behavior to that of a person with Down syndrome. The article was immediately rebutted by Greenblatt himself, as well as several repulsed organizations and individuals; like AIPAC, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and others. Al-Ghoul’s statement involved multiple levels of disrespect; for Jason Greenblatt, for people with disabilities, and anyone who represents the value of human dignity.
Beyond the wrong done to Greenblatt, my concern is for the children and families coping with disabilities in countries with developing social services. The offensive language is indeed disturbing, but for me it is not shocking.
As the founder and president of Shalva, one of Israel’s largest centers for disability care and inclusion, I regularly come into contact with people from different countries who come to visit the Shalva National Center in Jerusalem; whether they are official government representatives, dignitaries, or university students. They are curious to learn about Shalva’s disability care and inclusion methodologies, and leave eager to implement similar programs in the developing social service structures in their home countries.
Since the center was opened in 2016, we have hosted delegations from across the globe; including from China, Kazakhstan, Czechoslovakia, the Philippines, France, India, Vietnam, Nepal, Mongolia, Russia, Fiji, Guyana, Haiti, Mexico and Panama, as well as African countries such as Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe.
Whilst these international delegations come to learn from Shalva, we have inevitably been conversely exposed to the grim realities of disability care, which is often just a euphemism, in some developing countries. Over the course of tours and meetings, visitors share experiences from their home countries, describing truly disturbing realties, and their hopes of creating widespread social change.
A representative of an international public health university program who visited Shalva expressed, “Not only the magnificent premises, but the dedication of the staff members, had a deep effect on the students. While to have a center like this in the countries these students are from is just a dream, it no doubt gave them a [something] to aspire to.”
The term Omar Hilmi Al-Ghoul used to describe Greenblatt, “mongoloid” has largely been out of use since 1970. The term was coined in 1862 by the English doctor, Dr. John Langdon Down who first classified Down syndrome. He chose the term to describe his observations of the physical and behavioral characteristics of his patients. The term was later rejected due to its inaccuracy and derogatory connotation and has since been replaced with the term Down syndrome. Linguists and anthropologists have long hypothesized that the choice of language imitates our reality and evolutions in language that reflect society’s progress (or lack of) and development. As such, the development of disability terminology over time mirrors the advancement of disability care and inclusion.
Historically, people with Down syndrome were often killed, abandoned at birth and rejected by society. In the 20th century, societies with developed social services began institutionalizing people with Down syndrome, yet neglected to provide the necessary medical and therapy intervention to enable them to achieve proper growth and development.
Today, people with Down syndrome in Israel are usually raised at home within their family frameworks, receive rehabilitative therapies from a young age, benefit from education and employment opportunities and participate in social and recreational activities. Despite the continued need to advance the care and inclusion of people with disabilities, the fact that words like “mongoloid” seem foreign is a reflection of how far we’ve come.
But sometimes, remarks like those published by the PA daily stop us in our tracks and say, “Not so fast.” Al-Ghoul’s choice of offensive words is disturbing; however, the reality it sheds light upon is all the more so.
SHALVA’S PROGRAMS serve as models on national and international levels. Shalva has developed professional partnerships with disability-care organizations in other countries to share its knowledge and utilize its expertise to benefit children, beyond those in its direct care. In 2018, Shalva was awarded consultative status from the United Nations in an effort to extend the organization’s impact even further.
Through my interactions with community representatives from around the world I have learned that despite being an enormous undertaking, the mission of creating a better, more inclusive society is achieved by the work of individuals. One more doctor in a Sierra Leone refugee camp, one more diplomat from Czechoslovakia, one more kind-hearted entrepreneur from Russia can bring a world of love and professional care to more people. Change is not beyond our reach; in fact, it is our duty.Kalman Samuels is the founder and president of Shalva, the Israel Association for Care and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities. Shalva provides therapy, education, recreation and respite annually to thousands of persons with disabilities from the full spectrum of ethnic and religious backgrounds. The organization’s family support programs and inclusion initiatives empower children with disabilities to be raised within their family frameworks and as respected members of society. Write to him at Kalman@Shalva.org. Learn more about Shalva at www.shalva.org.
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