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The Anniversary of the ADA & Why Our Efforts Must Be Bigger Than the Disability Community

The Anniversary of the ADA & Why Our Efforts Must Be Bigger Than the Disability Community

A few weeks ago, I began to search my social media feed for inspiration as to what PEAK should post for Independence Day. I came upon a quote from the Black Lives Matter movement’s official Facebook page, @BlackLivesMatter. It reads, “Each of our own liberation is tied to one another. We cannot be fully free until every member of our community is free. That is why we must be intentional and steadfast in centering the voices of the most marginalized members of our community as we imagine a better world.” As I began to research further, I came across a quote from Indigenous Australian or Murri visual artist Lilla Watson: 

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” 

Today we celebrate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) signed into law by President George H. W. Bush on July 26, 1990. The ADA, put simply, prohibits discrimination based on disability. And while it put necessary protections in place, there is still much work to be done. This is evident in many aspects of our daily lives. At PEAK, much of our work centers on inclusive education. We know that inclusive schools create inclusive environments as children grow up and enter the adult world. Additionally, we have decades of research that reveals conclusive evidence regarding the benefits of inclusive education for all children, with or without disabilities. I believe that our work is undeniably a social justice movement for the disability community.

I have often heard members of the disability community state that disability is the last frontier of the civil rights movement. For a while, I bought into this, but given our current state of civil unrest, the pushback from the Black community grieving George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain and so many more, we must admit that very little has actually changed. It's important to remember that many of us still hold biases, be they unconscious or conscious. We must continually address these biases in all aspects of our lives - from the newsroom to the break room to staff meetings to our classrooms. We must create organizations that value diversity and break away from the comfort of the status quo in order to showcase the talents and gifts of all.

In addition to Black communities, indigenous populations have some of the highest coronavirus infection rates and are equipped with some of the fewest resources. This must be addressed. With the President’s recent speech at Mt. Rushmore, many Americans learned for the first time the truth about how the federal government acquired this land from the Lakota Sioux - this is just one of our many untold American truths. American Indian, Alaskan Native, and Native American people have faced family separations, forced removal from their homes, and received experimental tests, and more. With high rates of suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, and some of the highest school dropout rates, there’s no denying that we must include American Indian, Alaskan Native, and Native American people in our march towards social justice.

We must also address anti-Semitism. Desean Jackson recently released a video on Instagram that you might be familiar with. I had a co-worker come to me and ask me if PEAK was planning to release a statement about this. My initial response was, “Why would we?” In my narrow interpretation, I felt Jackson’s comments were ignorant and didn’t warrant further discussion or promotion. But, in further talks, I realized this is a part of the necessary conversation we must have. I reminded myself of the quote I had read about liberation - “We cannot be fully free until every member of our community is free.” Sure, there’s Jackson’s Instagram rant, but there are many more things happening in America and throughout the world that encourage white nationalism and anti-Semitism. In fact, the New York Times recently published an article detailing a surge of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States tracked by the Anti-Defamation League.

The Asian American and Latinx communities are a part of our march for true freedom and equity. Today, Chinese Americans are reporting harassment, and there has been a rise in hate crimes against Chinese Americans as depicted in this story from USA Today published in May. These instances all stem from narratives blaming Chinese people for COVID-19.  Here, in Southern Colorado, we have an interwoven culture with a heavy Hispanic influence, yet there are rampant disproportionalities in access to health care, education, housing, and more. While data supports this, I can tell you I’ve seen it all firsthand. From growing up and hearing racial slurs tossed at classmates to our neighborhoods and communities with dense populations of Hispanic people having fewer resources and opportunities and higher instances of crime - you don’t need numbers to see the writing on the wall.

And what then of the LGBTQ+ community? I recently had a friend in my circle tell me that the LGBTQ+ story should be separate from ours and our children’s. She made it clear that the PEAK Parent Center event which we were attending was not a place for that conversation to be center stage.  I raged inside and quietly said nothing to rebuke her remarks - yeah, I know, silence is another form of compliance, and I’m working on ways to speak up. That statement is something that marginalized communities are hit with again and again, “This is not the place for that conversation.” If not here, where? If not now, when? 

Today, we celebrate 30 years of the ADA. Let us recognize that the journey to social justice cannot be made in splintered segments of our population. Yes, it is true that individuals with disabilities still face innumerable injustices each and every day as seen in Texas resident Michael Hickson’s being denied care for COVID-19 due to his disability and dying on June 11. Many businesses, buildings, and technologies are not accessible. Health care, services, and treatments remain out of reach for many members of communities who experience disabilities. Schools frequently fail to make learning accessible for students, and individuals with disabilities are sparsely represented in films, books, and other media. But, this fight is not simply ours. As Watson stated, our liberty is intertwined. We must join arms as one movement if we are to be truly free. The destiny we manifest must acknowledge the intersections of our common humanity.

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