When I teach about the history and philosophy of Independent Living, I go back to the 1960s and describe the times. I lived in the St. Louis area then, and I remember the race riots in East St. Louis on the news, and taking the bus from my little town to East St. Louis to visit a friend over Spring Break. We were a little uneasy, even in the middle of the day, there at the bus stop. I went from knowing only one black family in my small town to being one of only two white faces on the street in East St. Louis.
This was a time when rights — all kinds of rights — were being discussed. Women were seeking equal pay. Consumers wanted disclosure of risk when they made a purchase. And people with disabilities stopped being grateful for crumbs and began to understand that fair and equal treatment was a right in this country. “All men are created equal…” took on new meaning across the land in many different arenas.
After the Civil Rights Act passed in 1965, the protests did not stop. Passing a law to provide rights does not necessarily translate into equal rights in day to day life. Do you think the Civil Rights Act has been fully actualized in our society? Are all people truly seen as equal? Do people of color have equal rights, equal status, equal pay, equal treatment today? More than 50 years later, the law is still sometimes ignored and equal rights are still not universal.
The Civil Rights Act became law in the mid sixties. The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed twenty-five years later, in 1990. Has the ADA been fully actualized?
The answer, of course, is no, the promise of the ADA has not been fully realized in our country. In a recent article, the American Bar Association Journal addressed this as a 14th Amendment issue — as equal protection, not just equal rights. Linda Klein said, “When it comes to employment opportunities, educational equality and access to fair benefits, people with disabilities can lack essential constitutional protections.”
We all need to be vigilant in knowing, promoting and protecting our own rights and those of our brothers and sisters and all whose equal rights are denied.
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