By Carl Josehart
Disability Rights is More Than Ramps
Expect. Empower. Employ.
In talking to someone living with a disability recently I was made aware of a type of discrimination that I had not fully understood. She described to me the poisonous impact of the absence of expectation as being almost as harmful as active discrimination.
She talked about the emotional pain and the barriers created by hearing people say, “I would rather die than live like that” when talking about her physical condition. Too often, when looking at a person with a visible disability our eyes trick us to focus on what is missing or absent rather than seeing the possibility.
I have been blessed to be have no significant disability that impacts my physical abilities but I will never be a professional runner, I won’t ever be a professional dancer, I am not capable of being a championship skier or rock climber. The difference is that no one has ever seen that as a reason to expect that I wouldn’t go to colllege or get a job or live independently.
My colleague, as someone with a visible disability says that she is rarely asked what she does for a living. In case you are wondering, yes she is employed full-time in a very high ranking position with a lot of influence, power and authority.
She described how harmful it is to those living with a disability to not have the normal things expected of them. She described her delight when she flies to a city to give a talk or a lecture and the taxi driver asks her casually what she does for a living. She explained that it is all too common for people to be surprised to learn that she has a job or at a social event to be the only person “not asked” what she does for a living.
In her experience it has become less common for those with a disability to be told that they are inferior but it is still all too common for children with disabilities “not be told” that s/he can do anything or be anything they want to be when they grow up.
Life, aging and the limits of medical science, will always lead to there being individuals with physical disability that live with extra challenges that some of us are fortunate enough not to have to overcome. Let’s not add unnecessary barriers and challenges by failing to see the capabilities and potentials of each individual. There are no extra people or unneeded contributions in society. By dismissing the capacities of a significant part of our popultation we are wasting valuable resources.
The Declaration of Independence contains the aspirational vision that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” We have it in our power to declare our independence from the hobbling impact of low expectation because as Norman Vincent Peale would say, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you will land among the stars.” Don’t we owe it to all of our children to encourage them to dream of reaching the moon and living among the stars.