Tagged with: accessibility ADA advocate awareness disability education employment hero inclusive life wheelchair
To help frame the contents of this blog posting, I am using quotes from Ed Roberts. If you don’t know who Ed is, you really should. Stop reading this blog and Google him. He is regarded highly alongside other civil rights leaders for all he had done for people with disabilities.
“We’re all getting older. We can’t avoid it, can we? I look around, and I notice that a lot of us are getting gray. As we get older, we realize that disability is just a part of life. Anyone can join our group at any point in life. In this way, the Disability Rights Movement doesn’t discriminate. So those of us who are temporarily able bodied and working for access and accommodations now get older, the changes they make will benefit them as well.”*
Ed had it right. Disability does not discriminate- it doesn’t matter what sex or gender you are, if you are rich, poor, black, brown, or white. We are all temporarily able-bodied. Consequently, EVERYONE should be concerned about civil rights of people with disabilities because there is a good chance you are going to join this group, or know someone who will. This month, the United States celebrate 25 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a federal law that is in place to eliminate discrimination of people with disabilities and to ensure the full participation and opportunities of people with disabilities in their communities. Wonderful things have come about because of the ADA- equal employment opportunities, accessibility and accommodation requirements for public buildings, programs, services, telecommunications, and much more:
“We are a very diverse group of people. There are all kinds. I knew a guy who was paraplegic–he was a second story man. He used to rob people’s houses by rolling up to their home, parking his chair and climbing up the wall to get in. He would take all their jewelry and climb back down. He must have stolen over a million dollars worth of jewelry before he was caught. The police took a long time to catch on. They had seen the tracks but they just didn’t make the connection; they just couldn’t believe it was a guy in a chair. They sent him to an accessible prison. Like I said before, that’s the ADA for you.”*
And while we are celebrating all of these great things that have happened for people with disabilities since the signing of the ADA, we also need to raise awareness of how far we have yet to go.
“I remember meeting with Leonard Pelletier before he was arrested. I met with Stokeley Carmichael, and others in the Black Power movement. When I told them that we were all fighting the same civil rights battle, they didn’t believe me; they didn’t understand our similarities. I did. Even now, many people don’t realize it.”*
The ADA is a civil rights law. Unfortunately, while the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made great strides eliminating segregation (for the most part), the ADA has a ways to go. People with disabilities still are dealing with separate but equal opportunities in their communities. Whether segregation is happening unknowingly or purposefully- it really doesn’t matter in the end. What matters is finding solutions. We need to find solutions so that people with disabilities can participate alongside their peers in employment, education, recreation, and health promotion. The ADA sets general standards that we all need to follow and be mindful of; ideally we should go beyond the ADA. If parking lot’s accessible spots are not painted correctly, or the police do not ticket people parking illegally and I cannot get my wheelchair out of my car to get to my doctor appointment, then my civil rights are being impeded AND I’m being prevented from improving my health (ask my friends and family- this is one of my biggest pet peeves).
“I encourage everyone to go out and get arrested. Not just for anything, but for the cause, with ADAPT for example. Getting arrested for what you believe in can really change your perspective; it can strengthen your resolve.”*
We should be angry that people with disabilities are still segregated and discriminated against. I’m not sure that people outside of the disability world realize what segregation and discrimination leads to. Civil rights are not just about access, but are about improving health and quality of life. Kids with disabilities have strikes against them early on- they may not develop the social skills, confidence, or life skills in general because they don’t have the opportunities to participate with their peers in regular P.E. class, after school programs, or sports programs. Their only opportunities to participate are in special programs just for kids with disabilities, which most are not held every day—once a week if they are lucky**. This may contribute to all of the poor outcomes we see in adults with disabilities. People with disabilities experience health disparities at alarmingly high rates compared to the general population. The health disparities are even greater than groups of people from racial and ethnic groups that are often highlighted in the news. Then, when you combine disability and race, the health disparities are compounded. Further, people with disabilities have lower high school graduation rates and lower college attendance rates. Hence, they also have higher unemployment rates.
We need to funnel our energy from our anger into the right channels to make change. We need to speak up and as Ed said, “…go out and get arrested.” Be an advocate for yourself, your child, your spouse, your mother, your friend, your student. The change you make helps the next person with a disability. Educate people in your community about the ADA. Find strength in numbers.
“We can only really be free and take our place in this society if we have economic freedom, which means careers. I remember we used to talk to employers about hiring people with disabilities as a moral issue: it was a charitable thing to do. Now, we have the ADA and there are companies like McDonald’s who are hiring many people with disabilities. I once met the president of McDonald’s and asked him why he hired disabled people. “Because it’s good for my bottom line.” he said. “We have found that people with disabilities are loyal workers.” This is how it is today. People with disabilities want to work. We have converted our approach from asking to be hired out of sympathy to marketing ourselves as a significant employee pool, and a consumer pool as well. This is the legacy of the disability civil rights movement.”*
Ed Roberts and others started the Disability Rights Movement in the 1960’s alongside the Civil Rights and Women’s Movement—well before Bush signed the ADA in 1990. We need to make sure his work is carried out. Unfortunately, even with the ADA in place for 25 years, there is still new construction, community programs, websites, etc. that are not accessible or inclusive. With high unemployment rates and low graduation rates, people with disabilities DO NOT have economic freedom. With the ADA, we have some leverage to protect ourselves, our rights. Let’s use it. Let’s carry the momentum of the 25th anniversary of the ADA to ensure the rights of people with disabilities. Let’s start a new revolution!
*Ed Roberts quotes taken from the World Institute on Disability: http://www.wid.org/about-wid/highlights-from-speeches-by-ed-roberts
**I am not against programs that are just for kids with disabilities- I grew up participating in them and still do participate in them. I think that they are very important. However, I feel that kids with disabilities should have the choice and opportunity to participate with their peers in inclusive, community programs.
Cartoon by: John Callahan – permission from Levin Represents