This is such an important month as we recognize the impact that Martin Luther King Jr. had on persons with disabilities.
Today, we remember and honor King. His name and actions are, of course, synonymous with civil rights. Many folks with disabilities or their caregivers may not realize the contribution King and the Civil Rights Movement played in the Disability Rights Movement.
The Disability Rights Movement led to many new federal laws and programs that improved the lives of those with disabilities. Some of those include:
• Updating social security regulations to include those under age 50.
• President Kennedy’s Panel on Mental Retardation.
• The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
• The creation of Medicaid/Medicare.
• Building codes demanding equal access for all persons, and many more.
The changes didn’t stop in 1970s. Things that we take for granted today — like curb cutouts, handicap parking plaques, many state programs to help disabled adults live independently — were developed across the country.
In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law, which, in part, prohibits discrimination based on disability. But the work is far from done. We know there are still many places that remain inaccessible for people with disabilities.
The ongoing conversations on inclusion in schools and the parents who need to fight daily for their children’s opportunities in the classroom remain a key concern. We are even still fighting for a disabled person to be eligible for an organ transplant or key medical treatment. It can be a full-time job to advocate for the health care our loved one needs. Ultimately, we need to continue to educate our families, friends, legislators, medical community, educators and business community on equal opportunity for all.
So, for those of us who continue to fight daily for ourselves or for a loved one with a disability, we need to remember how far we have come from the original fight, but also recognize that until the day comes when
all people are given the same rights, opportunities and access,
our work is far from done.
I will not stop advocating for my young son and his rights going forward. His quality of life should be the same as everyone else’s, despite holding the label “disabled.”
Together, we must take a stand and not tolerate any discrimination against the disabled. It started with the amazing work by King, but we must all continue his legacy.
King knew the work involved to gain freedom for all.
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable,” he said. “… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
So I challenge everyone today to be passionate in your tireless work to gain equal access and opportunities for all those in the disabled community.
Becky Lutgen Gardner is a Diversity Foucs fellow for the Persons With Disabilities Community. This column originally appear at www.diversityfocus.org/mlks-impact-on-the-persons-with-disabilities-community.