Kings and queens, lords and ladies, knights and princesses recently attended the fourth annual Kingdom Ball in Kamas, Utah. The dinner and parking lot dance is hosted by White Knight Fluid Handling, Inc. and has been built around including people with intellectual disabilities and their families.
Including people with intellectual disabilities rather than segregating them out for their own event is the purpose of The Kingdom Ball. The costume dinner and parking lot dance is held in the shadow of White Knight’s building that looks like a medieval castle.
Whether society is comfortable with saying it out loud or not, people with intellectual disabilities are different than those who don’t face the same challenges.
People with intellectual disabilities don’t want to be different than anyone else. We say that they want to be treated like everyone else and we should honor those wishes. That is not entirely true. At the Kingdom Ball, family members of people with intellectual disabilities team up with employees of White Knight and other volunteers to make a point of including people with intellectual disabilities, and making them feel like they are not different from anyone else. Whether society is comfortable with saying it out loud or not, people with intellectual disabilities are different than those who don’t face the same challenges. The success of The Kingdom Ball is that it walks the fine line of treating people with intellectual disabilities differently without having them feel different.
My son, a twenty-five-year-old newlywed dons a helmet, suit of armor and chain mail while spending part of the evening dancing with various young ladies who have intellectual disabilities. (The ill-fitting replica medieval armor leaves blisters and blood blisters, so several White Knight employees divide the task.) Mike’s beautiful wife, Holly, spends part of the evening in her princess dress serving food, and the rest, dancing with young men who have intellectual disabilities. Real Scottish Highland Competition participants like Joel Saylor and Steve Russon, dressed in kilts and other traditional garb, hold knighting ceremonies and turn young men (and a few young ladies) into knights. At The Kingdom Ball, including people with intellectual disabilities also involves introducing pairs of participants to “the court.” Lady Sherrelle and her ladies in waiting sit in formal high-back chairs on a raised platform and receive each pair of guests while thanking them for attending the ball. (Sir Ricardo, Sherrelle’s former boyfriend from years past, didn’t make it back from the crusades.) Siblings of some of the people with special needs also dress the part and spend the evening including people with intellectual disabilities on the dance floor (parking lot). Lauri Carter and PaintMyFace spent the entire evening painting faces, donating all time and materials. Dave Gremler from Hitman Productions donates his time and equipment as a professional D.J. And this year, Texas Roadhouse in Riverton, Utah assisted by donating much of the food. (Though none of the businesses asked to be recognized, I will ask readers in the Salt Lake area to please thank them with your business.)
Best practices for including people with intellectual disabilities involve treating them a little bit differently, without making them feel like they are different.
So, here’s the point. People who have special needs should participate on every level possible with those who don’t. Dave Gremler plugs in the mic and invites some of those intellectually challenged people to fulfill a dream of singing along with the recording to a crowd of dancing people. My son, Mike, would probably turn hostile to a marriage proposal submitted to his wife by another employee of White Knight. But he really gets a kick out of seeing Holly get several proposals at each Kingdom Ball. Holly graciously tells her proposers that she is currently married, but that if her home and family situation ever changes, they can find her at the next Kingdom Ball. Beautiful young women, siblings of youth with intellectual challenges, are equally tactful in explaining to over anxious dance partners that they are “not yet ready to get married,” but would love to be asked to dance, again. (Fate has turned off circuitry in the brains of some of these young people, but it certainly didn’t turn off hormones.) Joel and Steve enthusiastically respond to surprise attacks when wily participants sneak up and crack them across the backs with plastic swords and battle axes. Best practices for including people with intellectual disabilities involve treating them a little bit differently, without making them feel like they are different.
Much of what we have put into practice at The Kingdom Ball involves lessons we have learned by observing students at South Summit High School here in Kamas, Utah. South Summit runs an inclusion program that is based on including people with intellectual disabilities on whatever level they are able to participate. Students with intellectual disabilities are found in music (singing) classes, physical education classes, home economic instruction, and eating lunch with their more fortunate peers.
Students who don’t have special needs go out of their way to optimize including people with intellectual disabilities in the best ways. They treat them a little bit differently, without making them feel different. My son, Jack, has Down syndrome. He was a junior in high school last year. At the Junior Prom, Jack, and one of his peers, Autumn Russell, who also has Down syndrome, were voted in as the king and queen by their peers. Several years ago, Annie, another daughter of mine, who has intellectual disabilities, was also voted in to serve in the homecoming court. She also served as the team manager for the girls’ volleyball team when her intellectual disabilities kept her from playing on the team.
The two most important things I have learned from my young friends in the Kamas Valley are: First: including people with intellectual disabilities in the best way involves treating them differently without making them feel different. Second: A person’s limits should never be set more restrictively than their condition mandates.
Our society has done so well at including people with intellectual disabilities in our public education system. It is time that we take the next step. We need to continue to support people with intellectual disabilities and include them more in the community and workplace as they age out of public education. I guess that’s a subject for another day.
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