Saturday, March 31, 2012
Throughout my twenties most of my birthday's were spent far from home surrounded by co-workers going about their job duties and hotel guests complaining about the most mundane of issues. Few were aware of what March 13th was to me, and I was too busy to pick up the phone and reach out to my Cousins and friends whose birthday parties I had attended as a child. That's not to say that all of my birthday's throughout my twenties were bad, or even lonely (for the record, my 21st and 29th birthday's were truly EPIC! So epic that I know better than to share those stories on the internet), but during that period of my life the month of March was not much different than any other month of the year.
Then the accident happened. Then I became a person with a disability and March became something even more special. In addition to being the month in which we celebrate the birth of me, March is also Disability Awareness month. Now of course, I was aware of this before the accident happened, I was the one who had to hang up the corporate poster about Disability Awareness Month in the break room at work, but I really didn't understand what it truly meant.
It is a time to draw awareness, not to the individual with a disability, but to our world as a whole and consider it from the perspective of a person with a disability. Ask the yourself the question "If I had a disability, would I have the same opportunities and access to the community that everyone else has?" The answer, of course, is that people with disabilities should have the same access and opportunities that everyone else has. Unfortunately, after 10,000 years of human society, we are only just now beginning to embrace this concept as a society. What a novel idea that everyone, regardless of those things that set us apart from each other, should have the same rights as everyone else. My parents generation fought for this concept in the '60's, but people with disabilities weren't included in civil rights law until the '70's. The Americans with Disabilities Act wasn't passed until 1990, and even then it had to overcome huge obstacles presented by religious and private organizations that didn't want to spend the money to make their buildings and programs accessible. Many of these organizations still have the right to discriminate against people with disabilities today. That doesn't necessarily mean that all of the members of these types of organizations want to discriminate, but there's nothing, other than the voices of those of us who need and want equal access, that says that they can't.
This March began with my annual visit to the eighth grade classes at Immaculate Heart, followed by a great Disability Awareness Month kick off event hosted by accessABILITY at the Irving Theatre in Irvington. The month began to pick up speed as I started to fill my calendar with speaking engagements, many of which were with groups at my church. I received an unexpected birthday present when, during my birthday week, the church installed a new accessible entrance next to the accessible parking (makes sense, right?). A small group of people at our church have been asking for this for about two years now. The church is exempt from the ADA, so it is extremely special to me that they made this a priority.
I had a wonderful birthday celebration with my family, and as the month drew to a close I had the pleasure of speaking to a small group of students at Heron High School, and teaching the Physical Therapy students at UIndy an overview of the ADA. My family had a very special, and rare, opportunity to visit with my Godfather, David, yesterday afternoon. We then wrapped up Disability Awareness Month with an open house at accessABILITY, where we got the opportunity to show off our new accessible teaching kitchen! (It's really cool with appliances that have adjustable heights, cabinets that lower down from the wall at the touch of a button, and a microwave that speaks to you.)
After the loss of my legs, March has become the busiest month of the year for me, but it's also one of the most special months of the year. Through Disability Awareness Month I have the opportunity to share my story with so many more people than any other month. As a child I loved sharing the month of March with my childhood friends and family, and as an adult I love sharing it with the disability community, and those who want to help make our community fully inclusive, so that no one has to suffer the bonds of discrimination.