Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
This week we celebrate what would have been Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 85th birthday. Next Monday, as many people enjoy the holiday in his honor, I hope you will take a few minutes to reflect upon what it means to expand civil rights for everyone, including those with a disability. Working together, we have made progress over the years, but I fear we still have a long way to go.
Advocates in the disability rights movement have made tremendous progress as opportunities have grown for people with disabilities. But there is often a patronizing aspect to this – as if we are “granting” these rights and options for people because they are “special.” What about true equality for all? Everyone in our society has something to contribute, and everyone should be valued for the unique talents they bring.
Unfortunately, I still witness the oppression of people with disabilities, even though it is 2014, and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been the law for more than 15 years. How can a country that values autonomy, independence, and self-determination continue to isolate and stigmatize people with disabilities? What will it take to shift public opinion in a meaningful way?
Our board member, Marcella Young, shares that she believes we need to truly learn more about civil rights. We must dig deeper, and go beyond the surface knowledge we have about Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement. If we develop a better understanding of bias and oppression from multiple sources, we will become more empathetic and can grow our compassion for everyone facing discrimination.
I believe that Marcella is right. Knowledge is power, and if we all deepen our understanding of civil rights by studying the history, reading biographies of the leaders, and learning how we can follow in their footsteps, we will continue to make significant change in our world.
Change requires action, and the action starts with you. Every one of is responsible for learning more, and teaching others as well. So help teach me, and the readers of this blog. In the comments below, please share your favorite resources for learning about civil rights, disability rights, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other civil rights heroes we should all know about as we march forward towards Dr. King’s dream of equality for all.