Do People with Disabilities Have a Responsibility?
Parrish L. Stahl
Trying to work toward an active lifestyle for people with disabilities is a long road. Some of us have been working for decades to not only change physical access but also long standing systems and the mindsets of well meaning people who all too often have an almost exclusive caretaker attitude. As much as we need help and support: we are only moving forward if that assistance comes in the right form.
We as people are sometimes guilty of letting others do too much for us. Living with a significant disability is hard work and it is easy to say to ourselves “Look at how difficult my life is; I deserve to not have to deal with this”. In the short term we get a break, but in the long term we do not get the benefit of life experience if someone takes care of everything for us. For instance, how does one learn how to set up a household budget if someone else does that? How do we learn how uncomfortable it is to be late on a bill and what the consequences are, if that never happens to you? People are shaped for better or worse by the things that happen to them. People learn to make an omelet they enjoy by burning a few eggs and trying different combinations of ingredients until they get it right.
So much has changed for the better since the Americans with Disabilities Act; although much of the change has been extremely slow in coming. The idea behind the ADA was a grand desire by society to give all people a level playing field. Now, in theory, we have access and more open minds. Does anyone else ever wonder what we are going to do with it? It is frustrating that for the most part we have access; no we do not live in a perfect world, but access to goods, services, and systems is available and many times is not utilized to its fullest.
As advocates we hear things like we need more transportation, housing, recreational and entertainment opportunities. The sad fact is many times hard working individuals are working at increasing access and even organizing recreational events and struggle to get people to be involved. The question is how can we utilize all of the resources that we have? Do you as a person with a disability put yourself in a position to let yourself be heard? Do you make phone calls, write letters, and form relationships with decision makers?
It is extremely likely that when you form relationships you will also form allies. Not just someone to be a caretaker but go to battle with you. There is a lot of pressure associated with being one of the first to try something new but the rewards are worth it. A decade ago a woman in a press box was a rarity, now it is more common place. Someone had to blaze a trail. A journalist using a wheelchair is not common yet, but hopefully there are young people with disabilities coming behind me who will try. Every time I cover an event I feel a responsibility to build relationships with my fellow journalists. What inevitably happens is that disability no longer defines who I am.
Are you building relationships? Are you setting an example for people who are following you? Do you feel a responsibility to other people with disabilities?