By Daniel J. Vance


   Perhaps you thought the biggest struggle for a child with a disability would be in their trying to overcome or at least compensate for their disability. But U.S. government statistics now suggest that their biggest challenge will likely be with depression.

  The federal government's Healthy People 2010 report has revealed that nearly one-third of children with disabilities aged 4-11 describe themselves as "sad, unhappy, or depressed." (Among children without disabilities, it's about one-sixth.)

   Healthy People 2010 is an ongoing project of the U.S. Dept of Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One of its goals is to promote "the health of people with disabilities, prevent secondary conditions, and eliminate disparities between people with and without disabilities in the U.S. population."

     The report implies that twelve years after passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), children with disabilities still face environmental barriers that limit their participation in society. For instance, thousands of churches lack ramps and elevators, the homes of a child's neighbors often aren't accessible, and thousands of playgrounds aren't either. 

   In addition to environmental barriers, Healthy People 2010 claims that another reason for a child with a disability being "sad, unhappy or depressed" is the unavailability of "assistive" technologies, such as talking word processors, arm and wrist supports, screen magnifiers, special keyboards and communication devices.

   "Mainstreaming" in education is mentioned as yet another means for government to help them conquer their blue moods.

  All in all, the glaring weakness of Healthy People 2010 is that it does not advocate any real-life emotional solutions.

   Spending billions of federal dollars to further improve children's environments may indeed significantly bolster a great number of spirits. However, the root causes of being "sad, unhappy or depressed" are usually not external. While severe depression can be a biochemical illness, being "sad, unhappy or depressed" is more often a matter of the heart.

   The federal government simply can't wrap its arms around all children with disabilities and consistently love them all day. That important job must be yours and mine: treating children with disabilities (and adults) as fully human equals, with admiration, dignity, and love.

   For "sad, unhappy or depressed" children, with everything from cerebral palsy to dyslexia, often grow up to be sad, unhappy and depressed adults. A little love today could be the catalyst to help a child attain all his or her potential tomorrow.

   [Mr. Vance's email is djv@mnic.net.)