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October is Disability Awareness Month

Allsup applauds the work of Invisible Disability Association

Luis Carlos Montalván is a 17-year veteran and former U.S. Army captain who earned the Combat Action Badge, two Bronze Stars and the Purple Heart. His tours in Iraq also left him with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Luis shared his story of the "war after the war" at the Invisible Disabilities Association's (IDA) annual awards banquet, held October 2, 2011, in Lone Tree, Colo.

Allsup was a sponsor of the event, which is held each October during Disability Awareness Month. The awards banquet honored individuals and organizations making positive contributions to understanding and treating invisible disabilities.

Millions of Americans have unseen but debilitating chronic physical and mental conditions. These include TBI, PTSD, affective disorders, diabetes, cancer, lupus, Chron's disease and fibromyalgia. In addition to enduring life-altering symptoms, many people with invisible disabilities must deal with critical judgments, lack of understanding and discrimination.

Evidence of this was alarmingly clear at the hotel where the banquet was held, when employees initially refused to allow Montalván's service dog, a golden retriever named Tuesday, onto the premises. Among other things, Tuesday helps Montalván with balance issues caused by TBI, helps ease anxiety from PTSD and reminds him to take medicine.

"I wasn't angry, I was indignant," said Montalván. "There is a difference." Montalván said he was reacting to something unjust and offensive, and took the opportunity, as he has done so many times before, to educate others about the requirements of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The ADA gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities and requires equal access to employment, transportation, public accommodations, public services and telecommunications. The ADA calls for state and local governments, businesses and nonprofit organizations that serve the public, to allow service animals to accompany people with disabilities in all areas of the facility where the public is normally allowed to go.

"I'm an advocate, not an activist," Montalván said. In addition to a letter of apology, Montalván asked that the entire [hotel chain] train their employees on the requirements of the ADA. After getting a crash course on the ADA, hotel staff welcomed Tuesday and the other service dogs in attendance.

That spirit of advocacy and perseverance was demonstrated throughout the evening as individuals and businesses were honored for breakthrough research, volunteerism, corporate responsibility and innovation in meeting the needs and raising awareness of those with invisible disabilities.

"We cannot always judge whether a person is disabled or not by how they look to us," said IDA founder and president Wayne Connell. "Someone can have a physically limiting illness or injury, even though it is not obvious to the onlooker. Their limitations may be disabling, but because their symptoms can seem unapparent to most, we call them invisible disabilities."

Connell said IDA offers individuals support, understanding and the comfort of knowing they are not alone. Like Capt. Montalván, IDA educates and raises awareness of the realities of invisible disabilities to shatter myths and increase understanding.

"Believing a loved one when they say they are sick or in pain is the most important thing we can do," said Connell. "Just because we can't see from the outside what they are battling on the inside doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Belief, validation and support can give a friend or family member the strength they need to continue the fight."

To download a poster in observance of National Disability Awareness month, click here.

ABOUT IDA

The Invisible Disabilities Association is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization based in Parker, Colo., which encourages, educates and connects people and organizations touched by illness, pain and injury around the globe through its website, online social network, literature, projects and seminars. For more information, visit www.invisibledisabilities.org.