With calls for justice becoming ubiquitous in the modern world, it is important to analyze our society and recognize all groups that deserve to be advocated for. Equality for individuals with disabilities is an important issue that we have neglected to properly address.
Discrimination of those with disabilities is omnipresent in our society, and yet we are content with where we stand on the topic. You do not hear of disability rights protests. You do not see disability activists on news stations every night. You do not hear the voices of those with disabilities.
Much of this, I believe, stems from the belief that we have accomplished our goals on this front. Former President George H. W. Bush passed the Americans with The Disabilities Act in 1990, and this was even amended in 2008 by President George W. Bush.
For those who are baffled by the proposal that this is still an extremely prevalent issue, I ask you to genuinely reflect on your treatment of people with disabilities.
I myself did not realize the injustice in my actions until a few years ago. This is not to say that I have ever been against people with disabilities, as I have always felt passionate about equality for those with disabilities; rather, it is to say that I did not include them to the extent that I should have.
When I began working with students who have autism while I was in high school, my perspective on this topic was forever changed. While these students faced challenges that I could not begin to imagine, I had the opportunity to get to know the people behind those struggles and see just how similar we were in so many ways.
This experience resulted in a shift from the recognition of those with disabilities to the inclusion of these individuals. This personal development illuminated the way that society treats people with disabilities.
What more, then, can we do? We have already passed legislation ensuring equality for those with disabilities.
However, we have seen time and time again that legislation does not translate into action. While we may say that we support those with disabilities, our actions prove the contrary.
The reality is that while legislative change can occur quickly, societal thought drags behind.
In order to put this into context, I call upon Joseph Fletcher, an academic and bioethics pioneer who carried out his work during the mid- 1900s.
A staunch supporter of abortion and eugenics, Fletcher said,
“People have no reason to feel guilty about putting a Down’s syndrome baby away, whether it’s ‘put away’ in the sense of hidden in a sanitarium or in a more responsible lethal sense. It is sad, yes. Dreadful. But it carries no guilt. True guilt arises only from an offense against a person, and a Down’s is not a person.”
In the modern world, this belief seems almost unthinkable, and many would quickly denounce such beliefs. However, this is the era that we are coming from. These beliefs were commonplace only a few decades ago.
To anyone who believes that this is antiquated thought and that we have moved past this way of thinking entirely, you are incredibly naive.
While we may have moved beyond such blatant rejection of those with disabilities, we now use those with disabilities as props to show to others that we are accepting, despite our realistic rejection of these individuals.
Throughout high school and even here at Xavier, I have seen people with disabilities being used by other students. It is truly disgusting to see a semblance of inclusion only for those same people to turn around and joke about the individual with disabilities behind their back.
While we have begun to break down the wall that stands between “us” and “them”, we have only added cracks which allow them to see into our society. The wall still stands. We recognize them, but we still separate them.
Until we are able to fully demolish this wall and embrace the enormity of the value that individuals with disabilities offer to our society, we will forever be at odds with them.
We have not accomplished equality for those with disabilities. Have we made progress? Absolutely. However, it is imperative that we not become complacent and continue to acknowledge and work harder to challenge the norms of pushing those with disabilities to the outskirts of our society.