by Larry P. Johnson
(Reprinted, with correction, from "The San Antonio News Express," July 4, 2011.)
This July the ADA turns 23. So, what has it done for me? Has it gotten me a job? Installed accessible pedestrian signals at the intersections I use? Put in detectable warnings where I walk? Made the power company send me my bills in braille? Forced manufacturers to make a microwave oven, TV remote, washer and dryer that I can use without sight? Convinced people to stop treating me like a helpless, pitiful burden on society?
No, it hasn't done hardly any of that. So, why should I care about the ADA? Why should I celebrate? The ADA hasn't done anything for me.
A better question to ask is: What have I done to help the ADA live up to it promise? How many phone calls have I made, e-mails or letters have I sent, meetings have I attended, hours have I spent advocating for my rights and those of other individuals with disabilities to elected officials, business owners and the general public?
We have a choice. We can focus on all that has not yet been accomplished by the ADA. We can lament the huge government deficits at both the state and federal levels, the record high general unemployment, the widespread housing foreclosures and the stagnating economy, and we can surrender ourselves to apathy and inaction. And who would blame us?
It's easy to give up, to listen to and believe the politicians' forecast of gloom and doom. It's easy to tire of the struggle, the never-ending daily struggle of trying to right the accumulated wrongs of more than 200 years of American history.
But still, we have a choice. Yes, it's a difficult choice. It is the choice to have the courage and commitment to advocate for change. Being advocates means believing that our efforts can make a difference.
Things will get better for people with disabilities only when people with disabilities themselves are convinced that it is up to us to make them better. We can no longer afford to waste our time or energy in blaming society, public officials or our families or friends for the state of affairs we're in. Nor does it serve any useful purpose to portray ourselves as helpless victims of a cruel society. We are in charge of our destiny. We have in our hands the power for change.
We stand at a historic crossroads. Will we choose the way of apathetic surrender and dependence or the way of self-determination and self-advocacy?