International Day of Persons with Disabilities
Bringing awareness and support
Each year, is celebrated on Dec. 3 as a way to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities. According to the CDC, a disability is any condition of the body or mind that makes it more difficult for the person with the condition to do certain activities and interact with the world around them. Though we may not realize it, disabilities are more common than we think. Sixty-one million adults in the United States, or over one-fourth of the U.S. population, live with a disability, and one in three adults in Louisiana has a disability. Additionally, over three million children in the U.S. are disabled.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports three disability dimensions:
• Impairment in a person’s body structure or function, or mental functioning; examples include loss of a limb, loss of vision, memory loss, etc.
• Activity limitations such as difficulty seeing, hearing, walking or problemsolving.
• Participation restrictions in normal daily activities, such as working, engaging in social and recreational activities and obtaining health care and preventative services.
Disabilities vary widely depending on their dimension and causation. For example, disabilities can be related to conditions that are present at birth due to disorders in single genes (e.g., Duchenne muscular dystrophy) or chromosomes (e.g., Down syndrome), associated with developmental conditions that become apparent during childhood (e.g., autism spectrum disorder and attentiondeficiency/hyperactivity disorder), related to an injury such as a traumatic brain or spinal cord injury, or associated with a longstanding disorder like diabetes that may cause a disability such as limb or vision loss. However, despite cause and dimension, disabilities affect an individual’s daily life in ways we do not often see. It is also important to remember that not all disabilities are visible, as those with mental health disorders, chronic pain and other conditions are affected daily as well.
International Day of Persons with Disabilities helps to bring awareness to inclusivity and social supports for people with disabilities. Although we all face difficulties in life, for those with disabilities, these barriers can be more frequent or have a greater impact on their daily lives. WHO describes barriers as “factors in a person’s environment that, through their absence or presence, limit functioning and create disability. These include aspects such as:
• A physical environment that is not accessible,
• Lack of relevant assistive technology (assistive, adaptive, rehabilitative services),
• Negative attitudes of people toward disabilities,
• Services, systems and policies that are either nonexistent or hinder the involvement of all people with a health condition in all areas of life.”
Exclusivity, such as a lack of frontentrance ramps, videos without closed-captioning, inaccessible work environments or schools ill-equipped to educate disabled students, can threaten a disabled person’s quality of life. So can increased health-care disparities that people with disabilities statistically face. In Louisiana, adults with disabilities are three times more likely to have depression and are almost twice as likely to smoke or be diagnosed with diabetes or heart disease.
Access to inclusive environments goes beyond physical settings. It is important for anyone to have relationships with people who have similar experiences as their own, as this promotes healthy social and emotional development. These understanding-based relationships provide a place of support, reprieve and connectedness. For anyone, developing these relationships at an early age is crucial to building one’s identity and social and emotional health. However, for children with disabilities, these opportunities can be limited.
In 2000, LSU Health Shreveport School of Medicine students recognized the need for children with disabilities to have a place for social interaction with their peers, and thus Camp Tiger was founded. Camp Tiger is an annual five-day summer camp for children and teens ages 5 to 18 with physical or cognitive challenges such as cystic fibrosis, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism and more. For over 20 years, students have organized a fun-filled week for participants that most recently has included experiences at Sci-Port Discovery Center, Gators and Friends, Hero Horse Therapy and more. The children also enjoy local parks and end the week with “Family Day.” For LSUHS students and campers, the priority to meet the social needs of the children goes beyond the summer.
“Being involved with Camp Tiger these past few years has been a truly joyous experience. Camp Tiger is hosted by LSUHS medical students, and it is such a meaningful way for us to begin our journey to becoming physicians with this focus on service and community. We get to know our campers and their families as we see them year after year, and these relationships are so special. Camp Tiger also partners with organizations that have similar missions, like Perfect Fit Autism Foundation, for events throughout the year such as skating and holiday parties, which many of our campers attend. It is not only fun to be a part of these events, but it also allows us to learn about the support groups available to families in our area. Our counselors often stay connected with their campers after camp, too, so these relationships continue to grow,” stated 2022 Camp Tiger Student Director Abigail Poe.
Camp Tiger 2023 registration opens on Jan. 1 at www.lsuhs.edu/camptiger. There are a limited number of spots to keep the event as safe and fun as possible for participants. Priority is given to firstand second-time campers. For questions or more information about Camp Tiger, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Promoting accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities from infancy to adulthood is a necessary pillar in any community. Get involved by reducing the stigma, supporting inclusive community events and groups like Camp Tiger, and ensuring that your spaces of influence, such as work, place of worship, etc., are accessible to everyone. We can all do our part to support our disabled neighbors in our community!
Shelby McCarty, MSNPA, public relations coordinator at LSU Health Shreveport.