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The Waiting Game Must End for People with Disabilities

February 20th 2008

Joyce Bender headshot
Joyce Bender

A wonderful book is “Why We Can’t Wait” by Martin Luther King, Jr. This is a classic in many ways, as it explores the civil rights movement that he was the father of. If you have never read this book, I would suggest you read it. It is always important to know your history and to understand what formed issues we deal with in America today.

In 2010, we will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In 1990, after years of work by former Congressman Tony Coelho, the great patriot Justin Dart Jr., and many, many other great leaders, President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law, in front of a joyful crowd spread across the south lawn of the White House. What a great day for all people of ability!  We all believed we would be free; of course, freedom means we would all have the treasure of employment.

We know that to be free in this country, we must be employed. You cannot buy a car, go on vacation, buy a home, or send your children to college without employment. No employment means no freedom.

 

Who would ever believe that we are soon facing the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act and we still face a very high unemployment rate. You have often read the rate of unemployment for people with disabilities is over 60%; some argue that it is only 30% or 40%. Wait a minute everyone – why are we arguing with each other about whether the unemployment rate is 60% or 30%?  I have news for you – they are both horrible!  Do you think we would be happy in America with a 30% unemployment rate for all of us?  We would be experiencing a depression.

In fact, the employment of Americans with targeted disabilities in our own federal Government has decreased significantly over the past decade!  If you want to read more about this, go to www.eeoc.gov to read about the L.E.A.D initiative headed by our champion, EEOC Commissioner, Christine Griffin.

In addition, who would have believed that the Americans with Disabilities Act would be attacked and weakened over the last decade?  Supreme Court rulings have significantly damaged protection originally provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act. For example, a ludicrous “Catch-22” has been created from these rulings that directly impacts many of us, for example those of us with epilepsy. As a result of these rulings if you take medication, as I do for epilepsy, you can be ruled not disabled enough to be covered under the ADA and in fact be legally discriminated against. This also impacts those of us who have diabetes, cancer, HIV, psychiatric disabilities, use hearing-aids or prosthetics, etc.

As former Congressman Tony Coelho, author of the Americans with Disabilities Act and a person with epilepsy stated,” I did not write the ADA to write myself out!”

Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner and Congressman Steny Hoyer introduced on July 26, 2007, the ADA Restoration Act. We are all working with representatives in the House and Senate to get this signed by the President. As Martin Luther King, Jr. stated in this book, “we cannot wait any longer for equality”. We must act.

In his book, “Why We Can’t Wait,” Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “the Negro had been an object of sympathy and wore the scars of deep grievances, but the nation had come to count on him as a creature who could quietly endure, silently suffer, and patiently wait. He was well trained in service and, whatever the provocation, he neither pushed back or spoke back.”  This sounds familiar to me. This is the attitude of many of us in the disability community. We in the disabilities community just sit back and wait. We have waited now for almost 20 years.

We need to do something now to make changes. How? Let’s start by getting registered to vote and voting. Justin Dart, Jr. said, “Vote as if your life depends upon it, because it does.”  He also said, “If you don’t vote, you don’t count.” You need to get registered to vote and then you need to vote! We cannot make a difference if we do not vote.

Also, call your Representatives and Senators at the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask them to support the ADA Restoration Act. Don’t just sit back and wait for something to happen to help to change things for you, you must be the change.

Get involved in advocacy on a local and national level. At a local level, find out the name of the Independent Living Center in your area. If you do not know, go to www.ncil.org and they are listed city by city. We can’t wait. You need to get involved. At a national level, you can go to www.aapd.com, a cross-disability membership organization that is fantastic and very educational. Make sure you go to the website and read more about what is happening with disability policy.

Some people tell me to just wait and I will finally see employment issues change for Americans with disabilities. They tell me people are changing and things are looking better. They tell me they see hope. Remember those words of Martin Luther King Jr, when he said, “There is a word ringing in the ear of every Negro in America and that word is ‘wait.’ Wait almost always means never.” 

I for one am tired of waiting.

Joyce Bender of Pittsburhg-based Bender Consutling Services is a leading advocate for the disabled and especially for employing the disabled.


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