Lobbyists, special-interest groups, governments on the state and federal level and individuals nationwide are still embroiled in the battle for civil rights 43 years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
A particular current civil rights movement is one of the few remaining in America today and it addresses a repeatedly injured and misunderstood section of the American population – citizens with disabilities.
Disabled civil rights advocates, including the ARC of the United States and special needs agencies nationwide, still fight on Capitol Hill and in the Supreme Court for equal rights for the disabled despite improvements enumerated in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
True, the ADA requires curb cuts, wheelchair ramps, elevators, etc. in public areas, but the act does not protect against ignorance and other subtle forms of discrimination.
Intolerance of the disabled is just as caustic and painful to endure as racism; both occur every day except discrimination against the disabled doesn’t receive as much media attention.
Deaf, mentally/physically disabled and wheelchair-confined persons still endure taunting and social neglect in school, largely as a result of the education systems failure to teach about people who may or may not be noticeably different. Many teachers in many school districts receive little or no training in how to deal is the mentally and physically disabled students appropriately. Many disabled students are also shunned from the normal classroom setting and are sequestered in an isolated special education curriculum that allows for only limited contact with their peers.
In many savage instances, disabled persons are regarded as subhuman, and are forced to live in understaffed and overcrowded institutions where the margin between prisoner and patient is blurred. Many persons confined in these hospitals are presumed to have no hope of progress and instead of receiving life skills development or therapy, they are medicated and locked up in musty dungeons. The patients’ status as humans worthy of dignity is obliterated through being denied the right to live and interact in the community and their families.
In other situations, disabled persons are subject to Mengelesque crackpot medical procedures purported to improve quality of life despite the horrific and inhumane nature of the treatment. Such is the case of Ashley X, a nine-year-old girl born with static encephalopathy whose growth was stunted for the sake of her parents’ convenience through butchery known as “growth attenuation.”
Today, millions of disabled persons manage productive lives and have proven their role in communities as responsible and reliable neighbors and employees. The federal government currently employs over 209,284 disabled persons – a seven percent increase from 2000. Others have achieved productivity through an array of self-sufficiency and vocational training programs in many states.
State and local respite care agencies have increased in numbers and employees this decade, in some cases replacing institutions altogether. These agencies, such as the ARC of Spokane, provide one-on-one life skills training, assisted or independent living environments and an avenue through which individuals may be active in the community.
The next step forward to guaranteeing equal rights in all respects for the disabled is promoting increased research and effective treatment other than over-medicating. The federal government has already increased spending research for autism, bringing hope to millions of families. However, further action includes federal spending for stem-cell research for more devastating impairments such as paralysis, cerebral palsy or Parkinson’s disease.
Groundbreaking cures and improved treatments will not exist until politicians abandon archaic fundamentalist views of scientific ethics. Unfortunately, the Democrats’ recent bill easing restrictions for embryonic stem-cell research did not receive the required margin to overturn a presidential veto and a second bill would likely face the veto pen again despite growing support for stem-cell research in Congress and the scientific community.
A new attitude in conjunction with the change in the White House next year is the only chance for stem-cell research and the dreams of many struggling families to become reality.