Disability culture has improved thousandfold since the early days of institutions and sheltered workshops. Growing up, for me, it wasn’t uncommon to see “Handicapped Parking” signs everywhere. The latter term has thankfully become antiquated. We now see a shift from seeing disability rights as privilege, to seeing disability rights as human rights owed the same as everyone else who wishes for a good and happy quality of life.
But, this increased participation in society didn’t happen by Santa Claus magic. It’s a legacy of struggle by individuals (Yourselves included!) fighting for equal rights for what we view as access. Thanks to this fight, we now have the ADA, we have mainstream education, we have person-first language we have support. But, it wouldn’t have happened without the voices of disability advocates, and people with disabilities.
I can’t stress enough that we must not become complacent in our advocacy. A movement starts with one person. Whether it’s Ed Roberts, who integrated UC Berkley in the 1960s because he refused to stay in a hospital rather than a dorm, or Christy Brown who painted solely with his left foot, or Stephen Hawking, our contributions to society as people with disabilities and advocates must be remembered, and continually honored. As Thomas Jefferson said: “The ground of liberty is to be gained by inches, that we must be contented to secure what we can get from time to time, and eternally press forward for what is yet to get.”
These holidays, think about what we can do for disability culture. We must be a loud voice for those who cannot speak. We must give access and renewed life to those who do not yet have it. Our fight is not done. Our story is yet to be written. There is no movement, no culture, without individuals coming together to grow. How will you help nurture disability culture?