The unfortunate umbrella term, “Disabled Community” has been pushed into the forefront of popular culture. Anyone that exhibits anything other than the widely accepted “typical” behavior is clumped into the same disabled category. Plenty of Americans with a variety of disabilities don’t live their day to day lives in the same way as the mainstream. What that mainstream fails to understand is those with disabilities have created their own cultures, languages, and ways of thinking and living but they are still citizens no different from anyone else and an important part of who we are.
Conversations aren’t being had because people either don’t understand the need to grow beyond general ADA compliance or because they don’t believe the issues affect them. Not everyone understands that the elderly, the chronically ill, those with restricted movement, speech impediments, the blind, the deaf, the short, the amputees, the combat veterans, and those on the spectrum for autism are not only prevalent members of every society but are, in many cases, just as capable if not more so. Disabilities do affect us all, but most people, out of fear or convenience, just choose to ignore them.
Stephen Hawking, a well-respected man of great intelligence who made vital contributions to the global scientific community, and Christopher Reeve, an upstanding American actor best known for his work as Superman, founded a non-profit with the express purpose of helping and researching spinal paralysis are great examples of people who didn’t let their impairments hinder their abilities. In addition to being brilliant and iconic public figures with disabilities, these men dedicated their lives to expanding the realm of what our hearts and minds are capable of. Even after their passing, they remain role models for people in wheelchairs, with paralysis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and otherwise.
“Sesame Street” has followed in these public giant’s footsteps, helping forward a beautiful message of inclusion and normalcy with the addition of their character, Julia. In a very straightforward, easy to understand way, they’ve taken it upon themselves to educate their audience on autism, what it is and how to include someone with autism in our lives. Other popular shows like “Glee”, “Breaking Bad”, and “The Good Doctor”, have done the same, brilliantly highlighting the capacities of people who function just as well, if not better, than their counterparts. These types of wide-reaching spotlights are imperative to better expose the issues and help people feel more capable and comfortable.
It’s time to make some changes starting with seeing people for who they are, people. We have to stop avoiding and actively pretending we don’t see those different than us. We need to work toward the seamless inclusion of these American citizens into our everyday society by creating a more accessible country for the diverse array of people and their needs. We need to include them more in our popular media, showcasing their capabilities rather than continuing to find new ways of focusing on what makes us different. We should be more comfortable and willing to speak to everyone; we need to stop viewing and treating each other as, “others” and make accessibility a normal readily available part of our everyday lives.
The ADA being passed in 1990 helped forward the advancement of technology and inclusion of building codes to ensure everyone has greater access to the same opportunities including work, living spaces, political involvement, etc. Unfortunately, a lot of the available opportunities or technologies are hidden or have to be asked for, they’re not in the eyes of the public. Those who require the use of TTY or TDD, headphones, higher chairs, or walkers have to go out of their way to be able to feel like they’re an equal part of the American society. Many of the conveniences needed to help include those in need of the ADA already exist. I want to see funds made available for those who are willing to better, more fully incorporate these technologies into their places of business. I want to see more structures put in place that allow for easy access to the technologies we already have available.
To ensure these inclusions, I believe the ADA needs to be revisited and some keywording needs to be revised. The ADA currently structures its articles like this: The statement of what the article is to include, a vague description of the disabled communities it is meant to include, explains how it is meant to be done and ends the whole thing with, “unless it results in undue hardship”. These holes are too large to be ignored. The inclusions need to be specific With the setup of a fund available for those who need to make changes and qualify for assistance, the wording needs to be specific and the ability to make exclusions needs to be eradicated.
As time passes, technology continues to improve. To better the lives of our fellow Americans with disabilities, we should have funds available to incentivize people to innovate our current technologies and make greater advancements.
The progress over the years has been tremendous. Because of the work of so many before us, the rising generation is much more accepting and loving and diverse. They continue to take steps in the right direction with things like interpreters in press briefings, utensils invented for Parkinson’s patients to find more independence, subtitles, video chats, great prosthetic mobility and availability, and text to speech. Artists like Motzart and Beethoven created brilliant pieces that have shaped our musical industries. Plays like “The Glass Managerie” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” are beautiful, important pieces of literature built around people with disabilities. Ray Charles, Gaelynn Lea, Maria Iliou, Alison Lapper, John Bramblitt, and many, many more disabled artists have shaped the world we live in today and they did it all in spite of naysayers, and with what everyone else viewed as a limitation. What we need to do now is move toward a more open, more inclusive idea of normalcy. These people have wonderful, diverse talents and stories that, when integrated fully, will do nothing but take our country to unimaginable heights.
These issues are important and seeing how they’re addressed in the general media can help give context to the issues themselves, and present ideas on how we can start to implement changes moving forward.