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Why Disability Advocacy Is So Important for the ADA Generation

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People with disabilities born in the U.S. a few years prior to or after 1990, such as myself, have had the great fortune of growing up in a world where the American With Disabilities Act (ADA) exists to protect our rights. Older advocates have coined a term for this group of people: the ADA Generation. While society still has a long way to go in terms of truly accepting people with disabilities, the ADA Generation has not had to fight for our rights with the same intensity as older advocates due to having the law to fall back on.

The ADA Generation had a bit of a wake-up call recently when a new political party entered the White House and aspects of our very existence in society were threatened by proposed cuts to Medicaid. In March 2017, older advocates and advocates from the ADA Generation came together and staged a die-in at the Capitol Rotunda in protest of the cuts which have threatened the rights of people with disabilities to live in our homes with the help of personal assistants and assistive devices.

Many advocates at the protest were members of ADAPT, a national advocacy organization founded in 1983 with the initial goal of making transportation accessible. The organization has since evolved and now advocates for the rights of people with disabilities to live as independently as possible with the help of personal assistants and assistive technology. The cuts to Medicaid were appealed after the protest, allowing members of ADAPT and other advocates to celebrate a small victory.

Unfortunately, the rights of people with disabilities are still at stake due to the threat of states adding work requirements to Medicaid, as well as threats of the return of pre-existing condition clauses in insurance policies. Such changes could make most people with disabilities unable to afford much-needed health insurance plans, potentially leading to fatal consequences for many of us. Our lives and our rights are at stake. This is a prime example of why older advocates and the ADA Generation need to continue to come together to advocate for our rights. The fact that our very existence is being threatened in a world where the ADA exists shows that we need to protect our rights now more than ever.

Just as older advocates did not stop at Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, we cannot stop now. The ADA Generation, along with older generations of advocates have a responsibility to continue to fight for acceptance and inclusion in society, as well as to advocate to maintain the rights we already have. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we have a responsibility to instill a sense of urgency regarding the importance of advocacy in members of future generations to ensure that our rights remain protected long into the future.

The challenges disability advocates often face and the responsibilities that come with being an advocate probably seem daunting to some people, but at its core, advocacy is simply about standing up for what you believe in and making your voice heard. I will admit that I am not a very political person. However, the more involved with advocacy I become, the more I realize just how much politics and advocacy go hand in hand. Voting, for example, is one way people can become part of the political process in this county to ensure their voices are heard. Now that the lives of people with disabilities are essentially at stake, the disability vote is more important than ever before. Approximately one out of every four people in the U.S. has a disability. There is strength in numbers. If we all come together to make our voices heard, then we will not only be able to protect our rights, we will be able to make equality a true reality.

In closing, I urge any and all who read this to advocate for the lives of those with disabilities in every way possible. Vote in local and national elections, join your local chapter of ADAPT, get involved with your local Center for Independent Living, and educate others about the impact of potential Medicaid cuts so they too will join the fight for disability rights. We need allies now more than ever before. Whatever you do to advocate and help protect the rights of people with disabilities, make sure your voice is heard! A new chapter of the Disability Rights Movement has begun, and we cannot rest until we have assured equality for this generation and all future generations.

Getty image by Creatista.

Originally published: January 5, 2020
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