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Comments from Sarah Launderville, in celebration of ADA
This year marks the 28th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Each year, we take time and celebrate that landmark legislation. We celebrate the law that gave us the promise of inclusion, access to life and our civil rights.
As we look around the community today, we can literally see how that law impacted our world. Better access to employment, shopping, transportation, housing, and recreation.
On this anniversary, I reflect personally on my journey and why the law is important to me.
I hope that everyone takes a moment to do the same and not only reflect, but share that story.
When I joined the movement I was still embarrassed to talk about my psychiatric disability. The fact I was on disability benefits, kicked out of college and fired from my job as a teacher because of my diagnosis and then locked up in hospitals.
Over time, I shared those experiences and found hope and comfort with my peers in disability rights. I am so proud to be part of the independent living movement which accepts me and others for who we are and embraces our differences.
We use these experiences and join in solidarity together and with allies to continue to push for the promise of the ADA!
But- the law itself can only do so much. We all know that our society still has biases and still discriminates against people with disabilities. In the twenty-one years I have been part of the independent living movement – I’ve seen our celebrations of hope turn to fighting back to protect these civil rights.
Over the past year, the lives of people with disabilities have been on the line more than ever- and we’ve done some serious work to fight back.
Some of this work is legislative- fighting back against awful health care proposals that seek to eliminate those of us with disabilities from the picture.
To uphold the integration mandate of the ADA we must pass the DIA. The DIA helps fulfill the promise of true integration and finally addresses the intuitional bias of ensuring that those who depend on Long Term Supports and Services have what they need to live out of a nursing home or other institution and instead in their home surrounded by the people they choose and doing the activities they want.
We must fight against the ADA Education and Reform Act which will strip back the rights of people with disabilities to file a complaint of discrimination against a business. The business community is fighting hard to ensure this change- WE must fight harder! This change can open the door for other civil rights laws to be challenged. It moved further along this year than ever before and only stopped, thankfully in the Senate. But that is too risky- we must fight harder.
This is the time to fight back and join with disability rights activists from around the country. It can be done within the political structure, or within your local social structure.
We still hear and see the discrimination:
When we still see stairs on a building instead of a zero-step entrance and it limits the places we can experience.
When employers don’t hire someone because of a disability or because they don’t understand how to accommodate someone.
When we seek financial support in a systematic way that makes us feel worthless and powerless.
When a person with a disability is sexually assaulted and the examination room is not accessible, or they are not treated as humans who experience sexual assault in the same way their non-disabled counterparts do.
When a Deaf woman at the local hospital goes through childbirth without an American Sign Language interpreter and has no idea what the doctors and nurses are saying.
When people with psychiatric and developmental disabilities are used as pawns in the fight against gun violence – even though studies show that those with psych and developmental disabilities are more likely to have violence perpetrated on them.
When parental rights are stripped away from parents with disabilities simply because of their disability- which is still legal in most states.
And, when the social narrative is ablest and assumes that having a disability is not a life worth living. We see the inspiration porn on Facebook everyday with catch phrases that make non-disabled people feel better about themselves as they pity people with disabilities.
We are disabled and proud. That pride is embedded in the ADA. It is embedded in the intent of the ADA – that no longer will people with disabilities be hid away, but instead be out and living. This is the promise of the ADA. This is what we are fighting for!
I choose to continue to celebrate this legislation that has hope, inclusion, and equity all baked in and changed the paradigm globally for individuals with disabilities.
And, in that celebration we reflect. We tell the stories of the past and strengthen our bond with one another. We find allies in the movement. We forge new relationships and recommit to one another.
Thank you for your leadership as we work to end discrimination of people with disabilities – stopping the cultural bias that infantilizes those with disabilities and creating a world of true equity and true promise.
Justin Dart, was a leader in ensuring the ADA passed always reminded us to “LEAD ON”. We all must lead on in order for this world to change. Thank you for all your support and I look forward to working with you as we all continue to LEAD ON!!
Sarah Launderville, President Vermont Coalition for Disability Rights