America, just where are you headed?  

Sarah K. Lanzo, Independent Living

July 26, 2019


Are you part of the Baby Boomer generation? There's a decent chance, as U.S. Census Bureau figures cited in Wikipedia suggest couples that had delayed starting a family due to The Great Depression or World War II afterward felt it was safe to get going! From 1946 to 1964, approximately 78.3 million Americans were brought into the world, with one birth every seven seconds at its peak.

If you're an American "Boomer," or close to it, you were brought up to believe in the United States as, essentially, the savior of the world, and a beacon of liberty, whose democracy enfolded and warmly welcomed those of every race, nationality or belief. For instance, U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the early 1960s made it clear that there really was a separation of church and state, and that those of any one faith cannot authoritatively state, "This is my country, not yours!" I'm not saying that I was especially fond of some of the plaintiffs in those suits, but they did have a point, and it was upheld by the land's highest court. Am I a nationalist or am I a globalist? As a matter of fact, yes!

Then the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. Revolutionary! More amazing, this was followed by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, prohibiting discrimination based on functional and emotional limitations. Talk about a truly American ideal. Well, OK, you cynics! I'm not claiming that these laws have lived up to their potential in every way, but they are stated official national policy. As I'm not a political scientist, sociologist or historian, while they may exist, I'm not aware of other nations that can make the same claim. So, am I an ultra-patriot? No; just basically proud that, in our great land, all people, regardless of their appearance, accent, functional ability, stature and wealth, can participate.

So, it is with increasing dismay, and even horror, that I see those at the pinnacle of our nation vilifying those who seek America’s protections for minorities; marginalizing people with disabilities who want to live in their own neighborhoods; and dismissing all who seek America’s opportunities for working and engaging in our great society. They are making arbitrary decisions not to protect, defend and provide freedom, directly contradicting the open invitation of the Statue of Liberty to "the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore" and of her raised torch that welcomed my great-grandparents, and many of my colleagues, as well as their parents and grandparents.

As the voices of those taking these positions are particularly loud and persistent, and some have stations of considerable authority, a great many in the world presume that's just how Americans are, these days. Almost every day, I learn of some violation that defies the principles at the foundation of America’s Constitution.

However, this month, an occasion occurs that reminds me we — all of us — have something about which we can still be proud: Today, July 26th, is the 29th anniversary of the signing of the aforementioned Americans with Disabilities Act. You might say disability is the most equal-opportunity minority there is: whatever your race, national origin, skin color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or other characteristic, everyone is just one accident or ailment away from joining.

So, put on your cap with the American flag proudly displayed, grab your family, your dog, and a neighbor, go to downtown Buffalo on Saturday and join the Disability Pride Day Parade. Hold hands in unity, proclaiming that, as Americans, we all come together to ensure that independence, freedom, and the ability to participate are sacred rights for all of us who live, work and engage in America and all for which she stands. Let all know that we are proud Americans and that we still believe.


Sarah K. Lanzo is the director of Independent Living of Niagara County, a member of the Western New York Independent Living Inc. family of agencies that serve individuals with disabilities. For more information, call 284-4131, extension 200.