Celebrating Disability Independence Day
July 25, 2022
One of the most gratifying aspects of my job is when I get to witness a group of people help someone who has been disabled by the negligence of a doctor or hospital. I work to reach a verdict that upholds justice for them and also advocates for their continued independence as a disabled person. Each time, I feel like a witness to a small act of progress.
Americans with disabilities, much like other minorities in our country’s history, have not always been free. During colonial times, disability was seen as a punishment from God. It wasn’t until the first school for the deaf was established in 1817, and the blind in 1832 that disability became discussed with empathy and understood as commonplace. Exposure to famous people born with disabilities, such as Helen Keller, led to greater understanding and acceptance.
During industrialization, unsafe conditions in factories caused permanent disability for people who were left to struggle, no longer able to work after losing an arm or leg. Yet good people pushed back and Worker’s Compensation came into being.
Forced sterilization laws, like those upheld in Buck v. Bell, were considered at the time a victory for the American eugenics movement, which promoted the fear that disability could be inherited. Ironically, it was exposure to the people who were disabled protecting our country in the World Wars that killed these fears and the sterilization laws that went with them.
The largest win to date for people with disabilities occurred in 1990 with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 32 years after the ADA, we have many reasons to celebrate and we still have reasons to advocate for better. As more of us understand, disability will be viewed as just another part of being human and achieving our dreams.
Today, over 61 million Americans live with a disability, or 26 percent of our population. One in four people have a disability whether we are able to see it or not. Visibility for the disabled is at an all time high through the creation of the Special Olympics, increased diversity in advertising, movies, and television, and regulations requiring access and accommodations for those with disabilities in public spaces.
It takes perspective beyond one’s lifetime to see the progress that persistence makes. We have come a long way and have every reason to take a moment to celebrate the good people who continue to push to make our country an accessible place for all. Happy Disability Independence Day!