Friday, January 18, 2013

MLK to ADA: The Progress of Equality

This coming Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and for some of us that at least means an extended weekend, a nice day off work or school. But for many Americans, the long weekend is a reminder of the struggle for equality among all people.

Dr. King is known primarily for his non-violent activism that broke down barriers between races, destroyed stereotypes, won him the Nobel Peace Prize, and made him one of the most revered figures in American history. While we still don't see equality for all people, America has come a long way in the past five or six decades in terms of equal rights and equality awareness thanks in part to the civil rights movement and Dr. King's activism during the 1960s. The attention given to racial equality during the '60s helped bring civil rights issues for the disabled into light, and fantastic progress has been made since then.

In a previous blog, I wrote about the Ugly Laws that were enforced throughout the United States. Like many of the Jim Crow laws that were enforced to “protect” white Americans from African American differences, the Ugly Laws were enforced to protect those who could not handle the sight of people with disabilities. But! The good news is that the push for equality, the disability rights movement, eventually led to the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was heavily influenced by Portland native Richard Pimentel. [Click to read about Pimentel and the Ugly Law.]

According to Arlene Mayerson, the directing attorney of Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, the ADA adopted many of the strategies of the civil rights movement before it:

"Like the African-Americans who sat in at segregated lunch counters and refused to move to the back of the bus, people with disabilities sat in federal buildings, obstructed the movement of inaccessible buses, and marched through the streets to protest injustice. And like the civil rights movements before it, the disability rights movement sought justice in the courts and in the halls of Congress."

I admire those people. I admire all of the people who came before me to promote equality of all kinds. I thank those who have chipped away the boundaries that separate us based on race, religion, physicality, sex, age, everything. I know I take my rights for granted, but I'm grateful that I'm able to do so. That is, I'm thankful that, because of the fighters before me, I've not had to experience that level of inequality.

That being said, I hope everyone out there will take a moment to think about the progress that has been made and the opportunities to further that progress today and into the future. Love one another, people! You're all beautiful.

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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