People with disabilities don’t want to work. They are not capable. They are vulnerable and need protection. They need someone to look out for their well-being and speak up on their behalf.
You may have heard these statements; you may even believe them. As an individual with a disability, I find them sad and offensive. Most importantly, I find them to be extremely false. I work at an organization that each year serves more than 1,000 South Carolinians with disabilities seeking greater independence and self-sufficiency, and I would like to offer up different statements:
People with disabilities want equality. Expectations of our abilities have been set so low and people have tried to take care of us for so long that some of us have started to believe we truly aren’t capable of being independent. It simply isn’t true.
Ed Roberts had polio as a child and was paralyzed from the neck down and used a ventilator. Ed applied for college and was rejected due to his disability. He applied for California’s vocational rehabilitation services and was told he was “too disabled to work.” Ed later convinced the college to admit him, graduated and eventually became the state director of California’s Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. He was married and had a son. We in the disability community know Ed Roberts as the father of the independent living movement. What would have happened if Ed had accepted society’s low expectations?
I encounter people daily who honor Ed’s legacy by exceeding society’s expectations. LaQuanda Porchea, who had her hands amputated after a house fire when she was a child, played on her high school’s volleyball team. Dr. David Dawson has a learning disability and learned how to read in high school and now is a professor at the USC School of Medicine. I know many others who lived in or were recommended for state institutions who now have college degrees. I hope you are starting to see the picture.
On Thursday, LaQuanda, David and more than 200 others will gather together at 9 a.m. at the State House to call attention to the barriers for South Carolinians with disabilities. If we can work together to remove these barriers, a significant number of South Carolinians can achieve full inclusion and independence. I hope you will join us to see that we don’t want your handouts, pity and your special treatment. We want access. We want equality. We want independence.
Executive Director, Able South Carolina