It’s sure nice to welcome spring. After a winter of such ups and downs in temperature it’s no wonder that we have outside work to do such as potholes to fill and lawns to repair. I’m sure many of you are looking forward to some sunshine and pleasant temperatures in which to get some outdoor work done. We recently took advantage of a break in the weather to finish up the landscaping project on the north side of our building on Superior Street. What started out as a tired row of bushes and old railroad timbers has become a beautiful retaining wall holding a bed of river rock landscaping stone. My own staff and some of our workfare clients contributed their labor to the project and saved the township several thousand dollars in the process.
As March comes to a close I want to recognize that this has been Disability Awareness Month. If you stopped by our office you would have seen on the wall in our lobby the big colorful posters from the Governor’s Council for People with Disabilities. This year the message was this: “We have disabilities, and you’re not sure how to act around us. Maybe this will help.
Be genuine. Be relaxed. Be respectful. Be yourself. Be cool. Because, most certainly, we are.” Each year the posters are created by people who are living with disabilities, and their message is consistent. Don’t be afraid or nervous around the disabled. Just relax and get to know us. This is a sentiment that holds all year long. The Governor’s Council website GCPD.in.gov explains their message and 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.
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 has identified three things that disabled citizens have said are important values that are necessary for leading fulfilling lives: independence, equality and empowerment. These are so much a part of our everyday living that we can sometimes take them for granted.
In our country 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 work 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.
The Americans with Disabilities Act has been in effect since 1990 and aims to “level 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 equal access, and the ADA still needs to be enforced in order to fulfill its goals of free access.
Disability Awareness Month always reminds me that communities work best when we can 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 Be Cool!
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