To People With Disabilities Who Wonder If They Belong
Last year, I found myself having a conversation with someone who was not knowledgeable about people with disabilities. They were shocked that I was in college, because I have low vision, and kept asking me why I “took the opportunity away from a sighted person to attend this college.” I was in a bit of shock, and explained that I had attended public school just like them and I took classes in the general education system. I even pointed out that I was in the engineering department, something I don’t often mention to people I have just met. They didn’t seem to care and kept insisting I was robbing others of educational opportunities. I dropped the topic and walked away.
Earlier today, my friend had a near-identical conversation with someone who claimed students with disabilities shouldn’t even go to public school, let alone go to college, because it would be impossible for them to accomplish anything. My friend came to me depressed, as they had taken the words of a complete stranger to heart. I don’t know the exact circumstances leading up to this conversation, but I want to remind anyone who has ever felt discouraged after these types of conversations of this:
You are a person with a disability. You are human, and the disability is something you have, not who you are. It is not a good thing or a bad thing, just a component of the person you are.
You can attend public school and receive accommodations thanks to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which has been around for over 40 years. It lets you be in the least restrictive environment for your learning, meaning you have the right to be in the classroom if that’s where you function best. And you also have the right to receive services that help you learn, such as large print, Braille, extra time on tests, and so much more.
You can go to college thanks to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504, which prevents discrimination based on disability. Your college helps you succeed by giving you a disability services file, and you are held to the same standards as other students. You are not stealing opportunities from other students because you have a disability.
You can go anywhere. The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 requires accessible transportation and buildings, as well as many other things. Title II also grants workplace and post-secondary disability accommodations. I joke that the only jobs I can’t hold are taxi driver and brain surgeon, but thanks to this law, I can be a software engineer or work in an assistive technology lab, or whatever else I want.
The world won’t always be an accommodating place. There are flashing lights everywhere, a lot of things are in small print, and my cane gets stuck in the sidewalk a lot. However, don’t let that be discouraging. There is still so much to explore and to accomplish, and there are laws to make sure no one can stop you from living life the same way as a person without a disability.
The world may seem a bit scary right now, and it’s OK to admit that. But don’t think for a moment that people with disabilities don’t belong in it. Albert Einstein had dyslexia and became one of the most brilliant minds of our generation. Stephen Hawking uses AAC to deliver mind-blowing theories about the world around us. Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles didn’t let blindness stop them from creating music. And of course, there are people like Helen Keller, Christopher Reeve, Edward Roberts, and so many more who helped to advocate for people like them who lived with disabilities. Without these people, our world wouldn’t be the same.
So remember, next time someone tells you that people with disabilities should be anywhere but where you are right now:
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