With the ADA Firmly Entrenched, It's Time to Step Up

By Gary Karp, Modern Disability

What the disability community has accomplished in recent modern history is truly astonishing. People who were being obstructed from the lives they knew were possible fought for inclusion and civil rights—and they changed the world.

I won't try to recount the whole story here. If you don't know it (and you should), then do some web surfing on Ed Roberts, Judy Heumann, Justin Dart, ADAPT, Section 504, and the IDEA. For starters. You'll get the picture.

Inclusion

So with the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act around the corner as I write this, the moment is ripe to ask the question: "What does it all mean?"

We Fought, We Won, Now What?

Well, one of the most important things it means is that it's time for people with disabilities to, well, step up. Society has substantially made the investments we asked for. Now we have to prove it was worth it.

We made a very strong case in the course of this advocacy achievement. We said that people with disabilities had a great deal to contribute to society. We said that there would be benefits to our communities and in the workplace. We said that our emergence would represent a net gain to society in every way: economically, creatively—even spiritually. We said we are worth the investment.

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Now, here we have it (uh, much of it, anyway). We have public accessibility. We can park our vehicles, we can get in the door, we can use the bathroom. We have access to all levels of education. We have access to technology with innovative assistive designs and web accessibility standards, all in service of an information economy that is much less about physical labor. Relay operators are on hand to voice for the person signing to them via a mobile device, or who has affected speech. We even have some options in the housing market (though that is the one that, for me, remains the most entrenched form of discrimination I experience as a wheelchair user).

And we have civil rights protections.

So it's time to step up, to exploit the changes wrought of the disability movement, and get out there and show the world that these things we asked for (demanded) have been worthy investments indeed.

And therefore the remainder of the disability agenda should be addressed. Sooner than later.

Full Inclusion is Within Reach of the Community

This is how we'll break down the final barriers to full inclusion. This is how we'll at last get acknowledged for the real people we are beyond the entrenched disability stereotypes we are still notably mired in. Those remaining barriers are largely ones of belief and attitude.

Employers still believe that people with disabilities don't have the skills or won't be as productive. We have to prove them wrong.

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Policymakers still expect that we want things handed to us in the form of entitlements as a sort of consolation prize. We have to prove them wrong.

Insurers still don't believe that acute rehabilitation benefits are a wise overall bottom line strategy. We have to prove them wrong.

The attractive woman I met the other day clearly didn't think I might be a capable romantic partner. Oh, if only I had the chance to prove her wrong!

As the population of people with disabilities fully emerges, then the evidence will be undeniably clear that, much moreso than not, none of the above holds water.

I'm certain it's true, because my deep involvement with the various realms of disability has given me a front row seat at the parade of people with disabilities of all kinds and degrees who are out there proving it all. I've proven it to myself after more than forty years of wheeling, and I've seen the overriding evidence in the lives of too many people to conclude it's more the exception than the rule that this vibrant segment of our human family can live up to the promise of the movement.

I'm thrilled by the coming day when these things are so publicly evident that general cultural beliefs and attitudes will fall into line with the undeniable truth.

Inclusion

But these advocacy accomplishments have placed us on a razor's edge. Now it's up to us which side we fall on. Fail to perform well on the job or follow through on commitments we make, and we risk playing into the notion that people with disabilities aren't really worthy of a society committed to independence and inclusion. On the other hand, continue to show the degree to which we are capable of creative, meaningful, and unique contributions in every domain of society, and the prevailing misconceptions simply won't be able to survive.

This is the magic moment of opportunity. The sooner we get out there and step up to the highest standards we can, then the sooner we will play out the closing chapters of these historic accomplishments.

About the author:

Gary Karp is a highly-regarded voice of what he calls the "Modern Disability" movement. As an author, journalist, keynote speaker, and trainer, his mission has been to clarify the disability experience for our society, and to support and energize people living with disabilities. Gary is an inductee of the Spinal Cord Injury Hall of Fame. Learn more at www.ModernDisability.com, and also check out his online course at www.RealPeopleRealPotential.com which helps shift workplace culture to a clear understanding of the qualified talent pool who happen to have disabilities.

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