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People with disabilities have been trying for thousands of years to have what you have – the opportunity to rise to whatever level your abilities and ambitions will take you. The dignity in being seen for what you are and not for the labels that are applied to you. The chance to be included in the things that go on in the community instead of being segregated from the community.

Do these dreams sound familiar? They should. People with disabilities are not the only ones in society who have aspired to have the very things that so many of us already have. Women, African Americans and those from other racial minority groups have had these same hopes only to be told by society that their physical attributes were the reason their dreams could not come true. Members of some religious groups wished for lives that society told them were not possible because of their religious affiliation.

In all of these cases society told people that they were the problem when it fact, the problem was a society that couldn’t look beyond differences to see character. Most now know better. We know that skin color and gender and religion are not the reasons dreams don’t come true. Attitudes in society are most often the problem.

Unfortunately, people with disabilities have not crossed that barrier yet. They are typically identified by their medical label first and as people second. They are often viewed as physically or mentally deficient in some way. Disabled people are seen by professionals as broken and in need of being medically fixed or rehabilitated so they can be closer to “normal” like us. Acceptance often comes in the form of pity because we feel sorry for them, or praise for doing normal activities that our stereotypes can’t see as possible.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and March is Disability Awareness Month. In the spirit of awareness we must acknowledge that progress has been made over the centuries. People with disabilities are no longer left behind to die, or drowned at birth. They are not locked up in asylums or hidden in basements and bedrooms. They won the right to a public education in the 1970s and discrimination became illegal in most sectors of society in the 1990s.

But people with disabilities still don’t have what you have. And all of our medical treatments, rehabilitation, pity and praise won’t fix that because it is not the physical or mental attributes of those with disabilities that cause what is broken. It is the way we as society see disability. So in this month dedicated to awareness, let us be aware that the last great barrier that separates people with disabilities from their dreams is not their disability, it is us.

Article sponsored by League for the Blind & Disabled and written by its President/CEO, David A. Nelson, CRC

The Waynedale News Staff

David A. Nelson, CRC

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