In all the debates and conversations regarding civil rights it is easy to focus primarily on the struggles of race or gender. And while those struggles have been extremely profound, we tend to forget about a very special population-the last population to have received equal rights. They too fought hard for their freedom, and continue to do so in many ways even now.
So who are these troopers?
They are people with disabilities.
Please note that the proper and most respectful way to refer to these outstanding people is to use the phrase “people with disabilities.” Or perhaps you want to be more specific. You may know someone with Down syndrome or autism. But they are not Down syndrome or autistic. They are not handicapped or disabled. They are people who have a disability.
And they are also people with many, many, many abilities.
In the field of special education or human development we call this “child-first” language. To be more inclusive of all ages, some call it “people-first” language. Please use it. And don’t be shy to teach others to use it too.
Unfortunately, these special souls were not always regarded as such. Like other civil rights movements previous, people with disabilities protested the inequality they experienced. They petitioned the government, they conducted their own marches (with many of the participants in wheelchairs), and they sought help from advocates to defend their worthy cause.
It wasn’t until the 1973 Rehabilitation Act that people with disabilities were starting to be acknowledged as people with rights. In Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, Congress recognized that people with disabilities could no longer be discriminated against for having a disability. Eventually in 1990 the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, was passed, offering further protection for people with disabilities and their families.
Today, thanks to what the government has set in place, families and communities are better enabled to provide love and support to these significant members of our society.
Let’s too offer compassion and respect for this exceptional population that truly give us a glimpse of heaven on earth.
Don’t forget that people with disabilities are also people with ABILTIIES.
It’s time we start seeing them that way.