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Unity can to some extent be difficult to find here in the United States. At the time I write this, one political party’s convention has concluded and another is occurring. Each event has perspectives which oppose the other. Additionally, whether to wear masks or not as protection against Covid-19 is a controversial topic. However, unity can be achieved in a sometimes overlooked group: the disability community. In this article, I will share examples of disability unity and a unity story which I was part of.
A crucial disability unity example occurred before my birth, passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. I became aware of this story after hearing the Netflix documentary
“Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution”.
I do not use Netflix because I have satellite Internet at home. A friend played it for me a few months ago. The following summary is taken from my notes about the documentary. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is anti-discrimination clause. President Nixon initially vetoed the Rehabilitation Act, stating it would cost too much. After demonstrations by people with disabilities, he chose to sign the bill. However, Mr. Nixon chose to not enforce it. There was pressure from lobby groups to change the Rehabilitation Act in 1973 because hospitals and schools did not want to become accessible. Disability rights advocates demanded change then, not later. People without disabilities also participated in the demonstrations. The occupation occurred for over 11 days. Nationwide news coverage helped enable the demonstrations to succeed and enforce the Rehabilitation Act. Unity can bring positive change.
The Crip Camp documentary also makes clear that unity helped pass the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. This fact is also demonstrated in
“Activism Behind the Americans with Disabilities Act Included the ‘Capitol Crawl'”.
This article from history.com tells the story of unity necessary to make the ADA a reality. In march 1990, 1000 disability activists marched from the White House to the U.S. Capitol building. Some wheelchair users crawled up the Capitol steps to demonstrate need for the ADA. One of those activists was only 8 years old. Although involvement in this demonstration by a young child was questioned at the time, one of the event organizers encouraged her and she participated. The child later said she was advocating for herself and others in the disability community. I will now share a personal story.
The most unified example of disability unity I have witnessed in my lifetime occurred in July 2016 at the National Council on Independent Living conference. I attended and shared my experiences in the blog post
“2016 NCIL Conference Experiences”.
The memory which stands out to this day is people with various disabilities chanting on the way to the Capitol. It is true that event organizers told us what to say. However, I remember a tone of confidence and conviction. Unity is, from my perspective, much more beneficial than division.
Question for readers: What examples of unity have you experienced in your life? I will return next week with another article.