My son was 6 when I attended the signing of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Very few of us had children and I took him with me whenever possible. I can close my eyes and see him riding on the wheelchairs of so many of our incredible leaders. He was almost better known than me. Most of our so-called vacations were tied to going to protests and national conferences because I was a single mom with little monetary resources. I always tried to build in some things that were just for him.
I had a chuckle this morning thinking about the journey - 30 years later and I am still broke. I remember one comment my son made that still resonates with me: "Mom, why do we have to legislate caring?"
I still wonder... yes, why?
I was thinking about the journey. Many of us did our advocacy alone - little victories each day along the way that you will probably never read about. In most cases in the early days I was the lone deaf person. Many other disabilities were disenfranchised, not really represented in the movement but pulled together for civil rights. I remember the fight to have and keep my beautiful son. The reason: I had multiple disabilities and we, as a community, were viewed as incapable of taking care of our children. My family never understood why I was so driven to do the things I did and consequently I was isolated from family, raising my child alone. The disability community became family. We took care of each other. Trips to DC and other places were hard. I lived in Oklahoma, a long way from many things and a very conservative place that viewed disability as the result of sin - really heavy baggage. The second ultimate sin was getting arrested. This, in itself, provided my son with some interesting show-and-tell stories that landed me in the principal's office. As I defended my actions and tried to convince them I was not an unfit mother, I became alienated from my family.
In spite of having multiple disabilities, physical, cognitive and mental illness, the biggest barrier through the years has been and still is lack of communication access. I am grateful for the privilege of being a part of something good, but today I am also angry. We are still fighting for value. We are still fighting to live in the community. We have the highest unemployment rate of any marginalized group, not because we can't do the job, but we are viewed as not being able to do the job. And we are fighting for our lives. Over half of the pandemic deaths are people with disabilities in some type of institutional setting and nearly half of those killed by police violence are disabled.
The disability community has had some success at moving the issues of people of color forward but not enough. Black disabled lives matter. Where is the outrage? We have some incredible allies. I am grateful but we all need to step up and look at the intersectionality of the issues and bring them to the table - every table. Disability justice should be a part of every justice agenda. Silence is not an option.
I think of my son's question: why do we have to legislate caring? Yes, indeed, why?
Logo Credit: ADA National Network (adata.org)
Candace Low, a member of Asylum Hill Congregational Church in Hartford, CT, recently retired as Executive Director of Independence Unlimited, Inc., a Hartford Center for Independent Living, after serving 18 years. Ms. Low has been an advocate for ...