It's the 60s and it's Berkeley, a time and a place known for its challenge to the status quo. This was the perfect setting for a man named Ed Roberts to challenge the living conditions of people with disabilities. Up until that time, it was relatively unheard of that a disabled person could live on his/her own. But he and a group of disabled friends got a house on the campus of U.C. Berkeley in California and started the ball rolling. Once they had this independence, they realized the need for changes in the community. In a wheelchair, it was impossible to get up onto the curbs. Getting the city to make "curb cuts" became the first symbol of accessibility in the disabled community. The fight for accessibility in all areas of public life has been the motivating force behind disabled activist groups ever since.
One of the biggest advocacy groups since the 80s for disabled people was ADAPT (American Disabled for Accessible Public Transit). If you are in a wheelchair and need to take the bus, but it has no wheelchair lift, guess what? You can't take the bus. It's that simple. By 1983, accessible transit was the number one concern for people with disabilities. The Carter Administration had mandated that all buses must have a lift. But transit companies complained it was too expensive and in the 1980's the Reagan Administration sided with the transit lobbyists, making lifts an optional service. This meant that public transport companies did not have to provide access to their public buses. But just because you are in a wheelchair does not mean that you can't fight back.
So students led a week-long protest called Deaf President Now (DPN). Students boycotted classes and attended rallies, speeches, and marches. Again, their strategy was much like the student protests of the sixties. DPN laid out very clear objectives, which included the selection of a deaf president.
Their strategy worked and I. King Jordan, one of the original deaf candidates was selected. After the decision was made, a reporter asked the new president if he thought that being deaf would be an obstacle to his work. He responded, "Deaf people can do anything hearing people can do… except hear." Within a year of the uprising at Gallaudet University, three different acts were passed supporting the rights of people with disabilities, including the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was created to prevent discrimination against disabled people and give them access to all public services. Before its passage, it was not illegal to discriminate against disabled people. This meant that if you were in a wheelchair, you might be asked to leave a restaurant or movie theater because people thought you were a fire hazard. And if you didn't leave, you could be arrested for trespassing! Of course, none of that would matter if there were steps leading into that movie theatre, because you wouldn't even be able to get in!
Even with the passage of the ADA, there is still a long way to go. The most urgent issue facing disabled people today is long-term care. Right now Medicaid is the main funding source for the disabled community. But the policies are outdated and prevent the freedom of choice. Because of current policy, many disabled people are put into institutionalized facilities. The policies that keep people "warehoused in institutions" (a term used by ADAPT) don't seem to make any sense.
To combat these outdated policies, ADAPT has renamed itself American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today. They have drafted a bill (MiCASSA) that has already gone to Congress. If passed, this legislation would allow disabled people to choose how they want to use their Medicaid funding. The voice of the disabled community is asking to have a "real choice."
There is opposition to MiCASSA from the medical field and nursing homes because they do not want to lose the funding they receive from Medicaid. There are also some unions that oppose this change because they are afraid that care for the disabled will become privatized and people will lose jobs. But there will still be a need for care; it will just take a different form.
Ray Aguilera reminds us of the importance of civil rights in the disabled community. "It is… a group that anyone can join at any time." Approximately 50 million people have disabilities, making it the largest minority group in the country. Aguilera thinks, "It is surprising that it has taken this long for them to form a community." But now that they have, I think it is not surprising that they have joined so many other minority groups in their quest for civil rights. This quest will continue until disabled people have access to all aspects of American life.
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Daphne - So, the president lied but wasn't impeached? What's up with that?