My latest blog at Born Dancing
Historically one of the most marginalized groups in history have been those with disabilities. Societies have deemed them either unworthy of life or have seen them as God’s punishment for bad deeds. Disability has almost always been misunderstood. It was the communal fear of persons who were different. And as communities tend to do, when something is out of the ordinary—it is identified or characterized as evil.
Those who were different—those who lived with physical or mental disabilities—were relegated to the margins of society. At times they were denounced as witches, or thought to be in league with Satan. Invariably, they were merely persons living with a physical difference or some form of mental health issue. These ignorant meanderings led them to be ostracized by the mainstream. They were made to live on the fringes of society.
As society developed and modernized, we became more educated. At some point society thought it had become enlightened by no longer denouncing the disabled as witches or maleficent beings, and instead simply warehousing them. Sadly here people with disabilities were mostly neglected, abused, and ill-used. The horror that was Willowbrook, came to light in 1965 when Senator Robert Kennedy paid an unannounced visit to this institution that housed 6,200 residents in a place meant for 4000. The dehumanizing and abusive conditions drew national attention and became a key moment in disability rights history through a class action lawsuit that won increased protections for people with developmental disabilities.
Luckily, the United States was going through a societal upheaval in the late 60s through the 70s and 80s and the Civil Rights movement. Fortunately, some of the more outspoken disability advocates just happened to be disabled WW2 veterans who graced the halls of congress. They, along with the national disability movements, worked tirelessly to create the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
What the ADA does is acknowledge that those who live with disabilities are viable and productive members of society. They are ENTITLED to be a part of our society. They are ENTITLED to access life’s activities—be it employment, education and recreation. They are ENTITLED to the simplest of life’s realities—using a public bathroom when needed, eating at a restaurant, and employing public transportation to go wherever they so desire.