Isn’t it interesting the things we take for granted — like freedom of choice, individual liberty and democracy? Before the French and English or American revolutions, how would these concepts been received? Most likely, an individual would have been deemed crazy or jailed. Yet, here we are – just short of three centuries after people even began giving this revolutionary idea consideration, and we are still struggling…really struggling with it. Who should have liberty, choice and civil rights? People of color, immigrants, those with different religious beliefs, people with disabilities? Only a mere 46 years ago in 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed. And 39 years ago in 1971, people with disabilities were mandated to go to regular, non-segregated public schools. The concept that everyone should have access to free public education is less than a century old.
Through history, freedom and choice were shaped by the ruling classes who made choices for the uneducated masses. Over the years, the implementation of democracy has been a challenge to the individuals in our society. For those of us who choose to work for people with disabilities and their families across the country, we have seen that people with disabilities are still perceived as not deserving of equal treatment and not included in all walks of life. They are segregated in the name of “safety.”
It appears that the majority of people still haven’t accepted that notion that people with disabilities should be fully included in our communities. As previously mentioned, it has only been under 40 years since the “Education for All Act” was passed – public schools were mandated to educate all students regardless of their ability. Still and sadly, many people with disabilities live their lives in segregation and in isolation.
Segregation is not acceptable, nor is intentional isolation acceptable. Our responsibility is to educate, to change systems, to change perceptions…and perhaps most importantly, to change ourselves. We have the ability to create opportunities and democracy for all people. We can embrace all abilities and disabilities. Change starts now. It starts with us.
The choices we make today are building another chapter in history. The definitions of freedom of choice, individual choice and democracy will be shaped by us. And that, to me, is interesting.