Scott Colom: A time for respect and empathy

March 2, 2011 12:09:00 PM

Scott Colom - colomsw@gmail.com

 

When Betty Gore first told me I needed to write a column about March being developmental disability month, I was skeptical. Not skeptical that developmental disability month was a worthy topic, but skeptical that I would have anything interesting to say about it. But then there were allegations of disruptive conduct at Columbus High last week that highlighted to me the importance of developmental disability awareness month.  

 

I was initially hesitant to write about developmental disability because I didn''t want to write a column that read too much like a news article. The aim of my column is to write about Columbus as I see it, as I experience it. The responsibility of writing a weekly column forces me to find meaning and inspiration from ordinary occurrences, such as a conversation with a stranger at a bar or running into an old friend. When I write about these occurrences, I try to express an opinion about them that''s unique to my perspective.   

 

With developmental disability, I didn''t think I had an interesting opinion or perspective. Then, several sources, including teachers at Columbus High who were there, told me some students were disruptive toward a guest speaker at an assembly last week. Sarah Panzau came to discuss the dangers of drunk driving to the Columbus High students. Ms. Panzau has severe injuries as a result of a drunk driving accident. She now travels the country warning students about the dangers of drunk driving.  

 

The sources said problems with the sound system during the presentation caused disruption and that the majority of Columbus High students were respectful to the presenter. However, the sources also told me there were a group of students who were disruptive from the beginning of the presentation and disrespectful enough that school officials reprimanded those students in front of the school body after the presentation. School officials even gave out Ms. Panzau''s address the next day and recommended students apologize to her about the incident.  

 

I wasn''t there, but there seems to be several reasons the presentation didn''t go well. Still, regardless of what happened, this gives us a good opportunity to remember the importance of showing compassion and respect to others. 

 

This is why Ms. Gore wanted me to write about developmental disability awareness month. Many citizens with developmental disabilities are living a normal life. Many of them work regularly, go to church, and vote. Ellisville State school of Columbus, one of the five regional centers for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, has many programs to assist individuals with this process. Connie Tilley, a director at Ellisville, told me they use this month to show the community how normal life can be for individuals with these disabilities.  

 

To do this, the school has members volunteer at the Salvation Army''s thrift store and food pantry. They even hold an annual prom for the school members, which is being sponsored and hosted by students from Heritage Academy this year. The prom gives the members the chance to have a common teenage experience.  

 

Over the last century, there has been much progress in how America and Mississippi treats citizens with these disabilities. There have been funds, private and public, raised to support the work at Ellisville. Columbus should be proud of this institution and the teenage students willing to volunteer for disadvantaged citizens.    

 

Nevertheless, there is still work to be done. Ms. Panzau''s situation is different than people with developmental disabilities, but she deserves our empathy. Everyone makes mistakes, and the difference in those mistakes causing a person significant injury, like in her case, or minimal injury, is often uncontrollable and circumstantial. Just as being born with developmental disabilities is often uncontrollable and circumstantial.  

 

Therefore, people with developmental disabilities, who persevere daily, and Ms. Panzau, who has the courage to use her unfortunate circumstances as motivation to help others, should be treated with respect.  

 

Scott Colom is a local attorney. His e-mail address is colomsw@gmail.com.

Scott Colom is a local attorney.