Editorial: Let’s make the world more accessible to people with special needs | #specialneeds | #kids

This space has regularly been used to champion those less fortunate, particularly children. One of the best yet slowest developments in that regard has been the move to make the broader world more accessible to people with special needs.

One example: There was a time when the notion of autism-friendly live theater shows wasn’t even a concept. Now we see them periodically, gentler plays avoiding startling moments, abrupt increases in volume or flashes of bright light, provided in a less structured, brighter setting than the traditional auditorium.

Another: The Luzerne Intermediate Unit’s “Field Day” for special needs students throughout the region. Originally affiliated with the Special Olympics, the late Michael Ostrowski — executive director of the LIU at the time — dropped that connection to make the day more accessible to all students of special needs, creating one of the most uplifting, smile-inducing events you can attend in Luzerne County.

The LIU and other agencies have also connected with Variety Charities to provide special tricycles and strollers tailored to the needs of children who can’t ride a regular bike. Victory Sports has been providing athletic competition opportunities for adults with special needs for years. And Mayor George Brown has earned praise for pushing to install inclusive equipment at city playgrounds and parks.

Add to this growing list the development of Rising Light Ridge in Bear Creek Township, which drew none other than Heisman Trophy winner and NFL star Tim Tebow to our area Wednesday. He came because it’s his eponymous Foundation that acquired the property where the facility will be built.

As risinglightridge.org puts it, the new center will be a fully accessible recreational, learning and ministry facility providing a community of belonging where participants of all backgrounds and abilities, and their families, can grow in Christ and in love for others through programming designed to foster peer-to-peer relationships that inform, serve and challenge one another.

“Rising Light Ridge will be a place of purpose and belonging for so many people, and offer many first-time opportunities,” Tebow said in a story reported by staff writer Bill O’Boyle. “Not just for an individual with disabilities to experience a zip-line or go on a hike, but maybe the first time for families to see their loved one celebrated and valued.”

“Programming will emphasize each individual’s unique, God-given abilities as well as their inherent value as His children and image-bearers, rather than focusing on disability or disadvantage,” Rising Light Ridge President Matt Anderson added.

Tebow recounted a visit to the Philippines when he met a child who seemed forgotten and left on his own — a “throwaway,” the football star called the youngster.

“There will be no throwaways here,” Tebow said. “Everyone is worth fighting for.”

We offer a similar quote from a different story elsewhere in the same paper about the dedication of “Anne’s House” at Misericordia University, the fourth building available for single mothers participating in the school’s Women with Children program. Misericordia provides free housing for families in a communal building sharing common spaces, making it easier for them to focus on earning a degree and changing their futures.

Program Director Katherine Pohlidal offered a sentiment that applies to every program mentioned above and many more that help the disadvantaged and disabled live full lives.

“The days of diminished expectations are now over.”

Here’s hoping it’s not only true, but that those days never return.

— Times Leader

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