Disability. It’s an umbrella term that covers a wide range of medically diagnosed differences, both physical and mental. People with disabilities are part of the largest minority group in the United States, and they face daily discrimination. But as Maya Angelou said, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”

Kamryn Hellman

Kamryn Hellman

My 12-year-old sister, who loves singing along to “Frozen,” watching home videos, and making people laugh, has arthrogryposis multiplex congenita and Down syndrome. Through her, I have seen the joys and struggles of living with disabilities. I’ve learned that acceptance for people with disabilities starts with our individual perceptions. We need to understand that everyone has dreams, opinions and emotions, whether he or she has a diagnosis or not.

I appreciate when people make a conscious effort, when encountering my sister, to address her as they would any other 12-year-old, even though she can’t walk and uses sign language to communicate. An accepting, respectful society should be the standard we are striving to reach.

As my sister grows older, I know she will encounter disability discrimination. Accessibility is an issue for many people. There is a lack of wheelchair ramps, accessible signage and basic training. It’s also difficult for many people with disabilities to find employment, even when they are perfectly capable of performing job duties. It all comes back to society’s mindset. We need to accept and value those with disabilities, and I believe this starts with today’s youth.

In the past months and years, it has become clear that my generation wants change and is willing to do the work to see our ideas to completion. To eradicate prejudice, we need to make acceptance the norm. It’s time to stop using slang words that belittle those with disabilities. Instead, we should use language that shows respect. We also need to make a greater effort to include our disabled peers in conversations and activities.

And really, taking that first small step is easier than you think. My sister will gladly share a smile and a friendly wave with anyone she meets.

Kamryn Hellman, 18, is a senior at St. Mary’s Central High School, where she is involved in speech, newspaper, dance, Forma Veritas and Assistant Chaplains. She enjoys playing violin, reading and writing novels. Her parents, Deborah and Kyle, are members of Capital Electric Cooperative.