Start with the children and teach them that the value of a human being is not in their ability to carry a football or dunk a basketball, but in the quality of their humanity.
–Richard C. Senelick, MD
National Disabilities Awareness Month will be over at the end of October, but the “awareness” doesn’t stop, nor does our capacity to imagine the possibilities for those with disabilities as we strive to eliminate barriers that interfere with their economic—as well as social, psychological, and emotional—well-being.
In 1999, the Supreme Court upheld the Olmstead Decision, which called for the provision of community-
based services for those with disabilities, thus desegregating them from places like sheltered workshops, non-inclusive classrooms, and isolated group homes. (For more on the Olmstead decision, see https://www.ada.gov/olmstead/olmstead_about.htm.)
We’ve come a long way since the Olmstead Decision. Pioneers in our communities, schools, and workplaces are discovering how important and enriching it is to include individuals with disabilities in the places where they live, work, and go to school. Adults for whom expectations were once low are now discovering the fulfillment of a job well done, a living wage, and ongoing contributions to their communities. And, each year, states wrangle through legal decisions that expand the Olmstead Decision, broadening the definition of accessibility and openness.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was a breakthrough milestone in civil rights history. Both it and the Olmstead Decision guarantee rights for those with disabilities.
And yet, we still have a long way to go. I just completed a two year effort as part of the Federal Advisory Committee on Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Individuals with Disabilities. The results submitted to DOL Secretary Perez pushed the envelope further, providing a detailed road map for ensuring access to fully integrated employment at no less than minimum wage.
That is the next step, full participation in all aspects of society that starts in childhood.
What if we supported our children with disabilities (over 200 million worldwide) as they articulate their dreams and aspire to their highest selves? Do we think that people who live with a physical, psychological, or emotional disability have different aspirations and dreams than those who do not? They don’t. They have the same dreams as everyone else.
Ultimately, what would happen if we realized fully that “they” are really “we”?
The barriers that individuals face are much more likely to come from the environment in which they live rather than whatever is perceived as their impairment. I challenge us all to examine our own thinking about the abilities of those around us. What are our assumptions about people with physical, intellectual or developmental disabilities? From where do we get our stereotypes and assumptions? Are they true, and how do we know they’re true?
There are so many stories of people who have realized their dreams in spite of stigma or barriers that the environment places in their path. These stories are the driving force behind the work that we do at Fedcap. These stories are the reason we are in business. I look forward to the day, one day, when there won’t need to be laws or decisions or nonprofits that champion the rights of those with barriers. I look forward to the day when expectations and assumptions and possibilities are the same across the board. To me, that is the measure of social justice and a world where everyone has the opportunity to make a difference.
I welcome your thoughts.