By RANI CHOR
In a society that praises equality, there are still those who are overlooked and neglected. But this issue is not about the racial or sexual minorities of America. This is about persons with disabilities.
For years, legislators who stand by the disabled community have been true to their word. With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, people with disabilities are guaranteed certain rights that protect them from civil and physical abuse, and with that they are considered to be equal members of society in the name of the law.
However, to truly include the disabled into our society, we need to acknowledge that equality means allowing those with disabilities to actively participate in an accessible society.
Therefore, we cannot simply create laws; we must follow through. According to the ADA, “each state has an obligation to provide equal services and treatment for those with disabilities.” However, when you look around, it becomes quite obvious that such an obligation is not fulfilled to its greatest extent. To illustrate, there are still schools that have not properly accommodated to the needs of children with disabilities, and classes that do not allow those with special needs to participate. According to research published by the organization RespectAbility, only 61% of disabled youth graduate high school, compared to 81% for people without disabilities. Seeing that, it is no wonder why more than 750,000 people with disabilities are in jail, and 81.3% of people with disabilities were unemployed in 2017.
Additionally, public facilities are not always inclusive to those in the disabled community. Take the recent Seattle straw ban for example, which prohibited the use of plastic straws in restaurants citywide. For some people with disabilities, plastic straws are a necessity for drinking beverages, but according to Shaun Bickley, a co-chair of the Seattle Commission for People with disAbilities, “no one thought to contact us” before the ban was issued. This left the disabled community to bear the burden of finding a solution themselves.
Clearly, the disabled community is the minority group that has always been overlooked, and their issues need to be addressed before they seemingly become excluded from society. In a society built on unequal divisions of power, our thoughts on equality alone will not solve discrimination toward the disabled; only recognizing the differences of their situation can. An important idea to realize is that when people with disabilities demand access and recognition, they are not asking for special treatment; they are simply requesting for the same privilege that nondisabled people hold — to have their needs completely provided for and fulfilled.
In reality, the issues regarding those with disabilities are being buried under a flood of political campaigns, environmental concerns and what we consider to be “more important” issues. Moreover, many may insist that if persons with special needs have problems with the way the system is now, they could just vote or file a complaint.
However, that is easier said than done. Voting stations are not easily accessible to those with disabilities, because ballots are often held in churches or upstairs meeting halls without any ramps or elevators available. In fact, the Federal Election Commission reported that, in violation of state and federal laws, more than 20,000 voting polls across the nation are inaccessible. Therefore, those with disabilities often have difficulties accessing the opportunities that allow them to take an active part in society.
Ultimately, we must begin helping those with disabilities by recognizing that complete access is not mere tolerance, but accepting that their needs are different. Welfare corporations like disabilities and the National Organization on Disability (NOD) are still pushing for a more accessible world for those with disabilities. But it shouldn’t stop here. As a nation that preaches equality for all, we should include all those in our mission to a better world.