Douglas J. Usiak, Executive Director
I remember years ago, when we were actively fighting for our rights. That is, to ensure that people with disabilities could work, play, and go to school, by eliminating the many barriers that were keeping them from participating on an equal footing with their non-disabled neighbors. It may seem hard to believe now, but, back then, we had to prove to the public the real value of people with disabilities to society. We demonstrated that living independently in the community was far less expensive to the taxpayers than placement in nursing homes and institutions. We worked with schools to prove that their providing appropriate accommodations could enable a kid with a disability to make the Honor Roll. And we provided evidence that customers with disabilities could have a positive economic impact on their bottom line, if the community businesses would just make their facilities accessible.
Now, abruptly, we are faced with the reduction, the limitation, or perhaps even the elimination of some of those rights we fought so hard to gain. The Rehabilitation Act, Section 504 (non-discrimination in federal programs); the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, accommodations in schools); the Air Carriers Act (airport access); the Fair Housing Act (non-discrimination in sales or rentals); the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, lots of provisions!); and the list goes on. These laws are consistently being ignored, challenged, and taken to court, in a perverse attempt to curtail our Country’s efforts to include every citizen in all aspects of society.
So, why am I bringing this up to you, here?
Because, with encouragement from the highest levels of government, we citizens with disabilities, people who are different, individuals who don’t fit into some other people’s world view, are being pointed at, called out, and outright being discriminated against! Those of us who collectively bear the mantle called disability are, once again, being put into the spotlight for our differences, not our contributions. If you read and watch the news regularly, you will see that there is an increase of violence against many people who are not “the norm”. Many who should be cracking down on the perpetrators just make excuses and shrug; this type of enforcement is no longer their priority — if it ever was.
As did our fathers before us, and their fathers, and their fathers…(well, you get the idea), we need to stand up, (or wheel up), and say “STOP”! We need to make our voices heard and heard loudly! We need to re-educate those who believe that, because of our differences, we do not have the right to be Americans. We need to write, email, call, and meet with our leaders, and let them know what we think. Our predecessors didn’t spend so much of their time and energy to push for IDEA, the ADA, and the dozens of other laws and regulations that helped eliminate the barriers to participation of citizens with disabilities, just to see them erode now.
Don’t allow our own proverbial wall to block us from our hard-won rights. Get into the fray and — once again — make sure that our decision-makers, (wherever they are), hear your thoughts! Make sure our leaders know that we people who are different can make a difference! And are Americans, as entitled to that identity as any other human who walks, (so to speak), upon this ground.
It’s been said that the smartest person in the world is Steven Hawking, the theoretical physicist and cosmologist. However, he cannot talk without assistive technology, can’t move around without his electrical wheelchair, and is unable to eat without a person to assist him, yet he is contributing every day to the knowledge base of mankind.
Think about this: how many others are trapped within their bodies? How many others are prevented from equal participation because of their lack of access to the world around them? How many others are unable to contribute because they are different, and are prejudged and institutionalized without trial?
Too many, I say! If you believe, as I do, that we, as Americans, need to have our thoughts and voices heard by those in the seats of power, get out there and do so. Make it known that you have a right to be equal, you have a right to education, you have a right to a role in society. Empower yourself to get into the fight of your life; or should I say, for your life!