In March we celebrate National Disability Awareness month, and it truly is a celebration! So much has been accomplished, but there was a time when things were very different for people who have disabilities. There was a time when those with disabilities were left behind to die because they were seen as a burden to our nomadic ancestors. At another time in history disability was viewed as a manifestation of evil and it resulted in persecution. Persecution was eventually replaced in the 1800s by large institutions where people with severe disabilities were held in what were often deplorable conditions. And over the not so distant years we have seen times when people with disabilities were involuntarily sterilized, used as subjects of medical experiments, and refused access to public education.
Things are very different now, but changes in these conditions didn’t happen on their own. It took people like Ed Roberts was denied employment services by the State of California and eventually became the director of the very agency that deemed him too disabled to work. It took people like Wade Blank who knew that transportation was a key to living independently in the community, and worked for a national policy of accessible public transportation. It took people like Justin Dart, Liz Savage, and Pat Wright who were instrumental in the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. And it took the leadership and courage of others such as Judy Heumann, Max Starkloff, Marca Bristo and a host of others who are too numerous to list here.
We as people who have disabilities, advocates, family members, and friends celebrate this month because there is so much for which to be thankful. But we work together today and speak in a unified voice because there is so much yet to be done. We stand on the shoulders of those who were champions of change and work for that moment in history when pity is replaced with prosperity, when dignity takes the place of discrimination, and when community inclusion becomes the norm over isolation. When that day comes, that is when the celebration will really begin!
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