Friday, July 29, 2011

Why I Care about New York’s Marriage Equality Act (And So Should You)

- By Keith Hosey -

On Sunday July 24th New York joined the elite few states that recognize GLBT people as human beings and full citizens by legalizing and legitimizing same-sex marriage (while my state went as far as passing a law banning same-sex marriage a couple years ago). Congratulations to the GLBT community for this win, it’s fantastic and I’m happy for all the couples that have gotten married so far.

But I’m straight and a disability rights activist, why should I care about GLBT rights (other than the fact that I have numerous friends who happen to be gay)? Maybe it’s because of the way I was raised, to value people as people. I carry a picture of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in my wallet with the quote “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. I believe in civil rights and equality for all people. I can’t talk about disability rights without acknowledging the rights of everyone.

Someone once told me that I only care about disability rights because I work for the Center. That makes me smile and laugh. Sometimes I wish it was a nine-to-five belief. I believe that every person, no matter their background, genetic markers, birthrights, origins, etc. deserves to have the respect of being treated as a human being. I don’t understand discrimination, possibly because I’ve personally experienced it. I don’t think that anyone should have to endure discrimination in a free society, that we should all be afforded due respect as people.

I don’t understand people who can fight so fervently for their personal social justice cause and not care about the other groups. I’ve known people who steam at the use of the word “fag” then ask me why it matters if they use “retard”... It’s just a word after all, they say. I believe that we’re all tied together in this fight for equality. How an African-American is treated in a business has an effect on the disability or GLBT community -- and vice versa. The “glass ceiling” in women’s pay equality is as frustrating to me as an inaccessible business. Are my civil rights any less important than yours? Are yours less than mine? I personally don’t think anyone else’s value is less important than mine. Because we’re all only people after all… and isn’t that what civil rights are all about?

A Suggestion

- By Pinalben “Pinky” Patel -

I have been a vocational rehabilitation client since 2003. I am grateful for VR’s help in getting me two laptops, Dragon NaturallySpeaking, a lift for the family van, course books, and other software throughout the four years of my college education. My disability, Fredreich's ataxia, is a progressive disease so there is no telling what type of assistive technologies I would require as time goes on, and VR helped me get a ceiling lift, a Dragon NaturallySpeaking update for my new laptop I just bought, and a wheel chair accessible van even after college.

Without their financial support, I might have never completed my degree in Print Communications from Murray State University or be a published freelance writer. However, I do have a suggestion, which could improve VR’s services for people in a situation such as mine.

When I needed an aide for the school day, VR provided funding but never helped in finding one. It was very difficult to find reliable attendants on my own.

I had people who called and set up an interview, but they did not show up when time of the interview came. Some aides I hired just did not show up when it was time for them to come. They just have a smiling, gracious face until they just don't come. And finding a substitute when the aides did not show up or wanted a vacation was a nightmare too.

I think an organization would have better luck in finding reliable people to work. Therefore, instead of funding the person who has to hire aides, VR should give money for the aides directly to the college he or she is attending to hire attendants. It would be so nice to know when you get off the transportation you are using, that someone will be there for you. That was the feeling I had in high school, but I did not realize it until I started college.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I'm not really That Different from Everyone Else, Am I?

- By Robin Ungar –

I was born with Strabismus (both eyes crossed). From infancy through my early teens, I had to have surgery seven times to correct the Strabismus, and then to reconstruct the front left side of my head with plastic surgery. I started wearing glasses with an eye patch on the left eye at three and a half years old.

Although I do not remember the surgeries, I do remember some of the teasing I got because of my appearance. I am the youngest of three children and my condition and surgeries only served to reinforce my siblings' tendency to be protective of me when others teased me about my appearance. In fact, my appearance was so different from everyone else's that I did not have a baby picture to put in the year book my senior year of high school because all of the pictures that we did have were of my head being buzzed, which I hated, but my sister loved.

During my school career, I learned slower than other children and received individual attention through the IEP program. In high school, my parents were told by my high school counselor that I would not graduate from college. Well with my determination and persistence, I finally graduated from U of L with a BA in Psychology in May 2010. No one tells me that I can't do something and the word can't is no longer in my vocabulary. However, I do admit that I never thought I would graduate from college either, but with the love and support that I got from my family and friends, not to mention my proofreader, I finally did it!

I started at Murray State University in the fall of 1992. I chose Murray State University because of the great program they have with helping individuals with learning disabilities. So what was the problem that I ended up at U of L instead? Being that I lived on campus, I had to take more then one class at a time and that affected my grades too badly and after being put on academic probation and suspension too much, I dropped out of college in 1995, but only temporarily. As a promise to my mom on her death bed and to prove, not only to myself, but to my high school counselor as well, I started at U of L in the spring of 2003, the semester after my mom passed away. To assure my success, I took just one class a semester.

Not only did the surgeries affect my appearance as a child, but I personally believe and think that it has affected my facial expression even as an adult because I do not smile. I was actually told by my eye doctor that it has nothing to do with the surgeries I had. Due to my lack of smiling, I am looked upon as being angry, when, in fact, I am not. I am on medication for anger/depression. I sometimes wonder if my anger/depression issues stems from when I was being teased all of the time due to my surgeries and has just gotten worse because of my mom passing away.

My next big goal in life is to find my dream job working with individuals who have special needs (i.e. intellectual and mental disorders). I want to help people like I have been helped all of my life. I also want to let special needs individuals know that they are not stupid (they are actually very smart), that it is okay to be a slow learner, and to not let someone tell them that they can't do something.

I want to mention the song "Don't Laugh At Me" by Peter, Paul, & Mary. It is a great song and one of my favorites. It has to do with people that are different. I hope you all have a chance to listen to it at some point in your life.

People can be really cruel. Please do not be that person.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

NCIL 2011

- By Keith Hosey –

Washington DC: National Council on Independent Living (NCIL) 2011 Conference.

This is my second year in a row at the NCIL conference. It’s invigorating and energizing to be around so many advocates who have literally changed the course of civil rights and inclusion for people with disabilities in America. It’s empowering to see so many people with disabilities gather and organize to advocate in our Nation’s Capital. Revolutionaries, radicals & general rabble rousers from all over the country who are fighting for the same thing that we are in Kentucky: independence, choice, equality, our fair share of the American dream.

It’s a reminder for me. It’s a reminder that we are in a fight, a fight against ignorance, intolerance and indifference towards people with disabilities. It’s also a wonderful reminder of what we’re fighting for, of what’s at stake, of what’s possible. Throughout the year, we in the movement – I – sometimes forget what it’s all about. I forget the big picture: there’s a nationwide independent living movement out there, a civil rights movement for people with disabilities, “nothing about us without us”, “free our people”, “our home our choice”.

Then I get here. The energy is palpable and everyone feeds off of each other’s excitement. We take over a hotel, a multi-block radius, with wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, crutches, white canes, service animals. There are little people, amputees, people who limp, stutter, stagger, swagger, and move in mannerisms that are different, people who talk with their hands and fingers. I often wonder what other guests and people on the streets think about us. But by the 2nd day, we’re part of the natural mosaic, people don’t give second looks, they don’t stare, they don’t bat an eye. The other guests stand in the lobby with us like it’s any other Thursday. To me, that’s what we’re fighting for, what’s at stake, what’s possible. It’s an amazing conference and I wish everyone with a disability could experience it once to experience the energy.

Image Property of Independence First of Milwaukee, WI.