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The Light I See in These Dark Times for People With Disabilities

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We are living in a scary time. This seems to be the conclusion of so many conversations I’ve had lately with various people from diverse political viewpoints. While obviously not everyone shares this perspective, those of us who live and/or work with more vulnerable populations, such as children and adults with disabilities can’t seem to avoid such conversations on a regular basis. To me there is no doubt that the current administration does not place the same emphasis on civil rights as its predecessors, both in terms of protecting current rights and pushing to expand those rights when necessary.

However, it is important to continue looking for and finding the light in the perceived darkness. My generation has been very sheltered, especially those of us living in Massachusetts, as we have simply enjoyed the liberties the previous generation and beyond fought so long and hard to give to us. As a result, I do not remember a period in my lifetime before now when there has been such a strong and collective response to governmental infringement on the civil rights of people from all different groups – including immigrants, LGBTQ people, women and of particular importance to me, individuals with disabilities.

I have been intimately involved with disability issues in a myriad of ways including personal, academic and in a professional capacity for my entire life. In college, I took a Sociology of Disability class that had a profound impact on how I viewed such issues and the manner in which I hoped to fight to resolve many of them. During a lively class discussion, the professor pointed out that disability was the only minority that anyone could join, at any point in their life, should circumstances change.

Despite this reality, the disability community has remained one of the least well-organized in terms of uniting the different factions within the group to advocate in one voice for their collective rights, as well as inspire outside individuals to lobby just as hard for those same rights. That perspective has always stuck with me, especially while studying the path to passage of different federal and state laws enacted to protect individuals with disabilities in every major area of their lives, from school through employment opportunities and even access to public buildings and institutions.

Yet under the current administration, it appears as though an ever-growing group of the general population is coming together to fight for the equal rights of everyone in this country, including those with disabilities. For example, the significant public outcry to the confirmation of Betsy DeVos to lead the Department of Education was not solely circumscribed around her lack of qualifications as it pertained to students in the general education world, but also her utter ignorance of critical federal legislation that is essential to the protection and education of students with disabilities.

While I had been very focused on that aspect of her confirmation hearing, I was shocked and then heartened when I looked around and saw that so many others, without my background or a personal connection of their own, were likewise upset and concerned about what her leadership might mean for students with special needs. These individuals called and wrote letters to their representatives, protested outside schools and used any outlet available to them to express their fear, concerns and to demand better for all of our children. Their outrage and dedication to fight for the rights of everyone in this country, not just their own and those of their family and friends, breathed new life into my lifelong passion to fight for the rights of those in need.

Yes, we live in scary times. But it is important to find that light in the darkness where it may exist.

Editor’s note: This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

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Thinkstock photo by Alexey R.

Originally published: March 24, 2017
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