A Documentary In The Making
A Wake-Up Call to Americans with Disabilities
By Marty Klein
Dialogue Magazine, 2013
On July 26, 1990, the United States Congress passed the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act. I remember feeling very proud of our country at that time for making it illegal to discriminate based on disability. I felt strongly then that, in spite of my blindness-related personal challenges, my life would eventually be better, and so would the lives of all visually impaired people as well as all the disabled in the United States.
It’s the year 2013 now, and although we still have our challenges as citizens with disabilities, nevertheless it’s the best time in our country’s history to be disabled. Thanks to the ADA and the continued strides in modern technology, many disabled people today have access to the tools, as well as the backing of the law, to make an honest wage at a myriad of diverse jobs. In fact, over 200,000 jobs in our federal government were handled by disabled people in 2010, just three years ago. Unfortunately though, in spite of all the strides and the improvement in our standard of living, the disabled community still suffers from high unemployment.
Over the years we have watched oppressed groups make important strides toward equality in our country. In the early sixties our Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which made it law that no one could discriminate based on race. This has made an immense difference in the lives of Hispanic and African-American people and their families. Over the last fifty years they have acquired, in general, much better jobs, a higher quality of life, and now perhaps have a growing sense that the United States of America is their country, too.
Earlier, women were recognized by being given the right to vote. This was the beginning of the women’s movement for equality, and today women in the U.S. have more opportunity for education and advancement than their grandmothers could have thought possible.
The most recently oppressed group that has been uplifted by progressive changes in our laws and our outlook is the gay community. Surveys show now that over fifty percent of our population is accepting of those who choose a gay lifestyle and they are also supportive of civil union and gay marriage. The respect that many of these individuals are now beginning to experience has broadened horizons and expanded possibilities that would have been unthinkable a few short years ago.
In many ways, Americans with disabilities share much in common with these other minorities when it comes to enjoying positive results from some fairly recent changes in federal law. However, there remains a huge gap between those groups and the disabled when the subject turns to work and service in the military.
As of September 30, 2010, there were 1,430,895 people in the United States military. There were men and women, African-Americans, Hispanics and Caucasians, gays and heterosexuals alike, all holding good jobs in service to their country. But, for the longest time, there were absolutely no people with disabilities in the military. Now there are precious few soldiers, disabled in the line of duty, who are still managing to work in the military. But those of us with pre-existing disabilities are barred from applying or serving.
All large corporations and businesses in our country are mandated by the law to comply with the ADA except our United States military. That’s right! No person with a disability is allowed to join the military, yet at this time, with the strides of modern technology, more than half of the jobs in the military can be handled by people with disabilities. At the present time, the only two groups prohibited to join the military are the disabled and ex-convicts. I understand the need to restrict access by those with a history of criminal activity to jobs in the armed services, but it no longer makes sense to restrict all people with disabilities. We may have to make some noise to bring this injustice to the light, but it’s time that this inequity becomes part of the national conversation.
I am totally confident that this one change would bring great pride and a higher standard of living to huge numbers of disabled in our country. I insist on maintaining a hope that someday there will be a commercial on TV for the military and on the screen, with our stars and stripes in the background, will be a woman, an African-American, an Hispanic and a Caucasian proudly facing the camera in their military uniforms… and one of them will be holding a white cane and one will be in a wheelchair. And when that happens, I will be even more proud of our beloved United States than I am today.