That was the message from the Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities, and if you stopped by our office this past month you would have seen on the wall in our lobby the big colorful posters shouting out that message. Step up closer to it and read in smaller print, IndianaDisability Awareness.org. That’s the website, by the Governor’s Council, that explains their message and that links users with all kinds of information about living with disabilities in Indiana, and about treating each other—regardless of our differences—with dignity and respect.
March, you see, is Disability Awareness month, and the message this year was meant to tell us all to just relax when dealing with others—those with or without a disability–and see not how we differ from one another, but what we have in common, how in most ways we are all the same.
Just over 10% of Indiana citizens are considered disabled. That is one out of every ten people. With numbers like that, chances are you know a person with a disability—maybe at work, maybe in your home; maybe you even help care for someone in your family with a disability, or maybe you, yourself, live with a disability. The Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities has identified three things that disabled citizens have identified as important values, necessary for leading fulfilling lives, that many of us take for granted—those are independence, equality and empowerment.
In our society we all have many freedoms—to move about, to go where we want to go and do what we want to do; but those freedoms may not exist for all of us. One may be free to cross a street, but if they depend on a walker and can’t make it up or down a curb, that freedom becomes lost. A flight of stairs will stop any wheelchair-bound person from entering a building whether or not it’s a free public space. The more we see the world through the eyes of someone with a disability, the more we realize that there are all kinds of barriers and restrictions to access freedoms that many of us take for granted.
By hindering those who are less able, we are hurting not just them but our society as a whole. So many disabled people have so much to offer our world. Dr. Stephen Hawking, who passed away March 14, made huge contributions to our knowledge of space and the universe despite being confined by the effects of ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Though he lost the ability to move or talk, he continued, with the help of technology, to write and lecture, sharing with the world his gifts of the mind. Wouldn’t this be a poorer world without him?
The Americans with Disabilities Act has been in effect since 1990 with the aim of “leveling the playing field” for people with disabilities. This has been a great thing for our country as it has meant many changes allowing the disabled greater access to services and more tools to fight discrimination. But we must stay vigilant. There is still much to be done to ensure equality, and the ADA still needs enforcement to fulfill its goals of free access.
Disability Awareness Month always reminds me that communities thrive when we all take an active part. “People are the heart of community, and when you embrace diversity, spirit and possibilities, everyone feels at home.”
I am always happy to hang posters and hand out the stickers and bookmarks that come from the Council and I often keep them up in our lobby past the month of March because I think that it’s so important that all people get equal treatment and opportunity in our society. To make that happen we need to be aware of the conditions around us that affect everyone. Let’s learn to relax, and value what we and those around us have to offer. Live and let live, and Just Be You!
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