Current Events Reflections

How to Properly Celebrate a Civil Rights Law During a Pandemic in Which Its Subjects Were Left to Die: The Americans With Disabilities Act

Fret not, dear friends, the celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act is here. Sure, it is occurring during a pandemic that began with major publications disseminating eugenicist theories and articles like “I think 72, is a long enough life, don’t you?” and “Why are you all running scared? It’s only those with ‘underlying conditions’ and the elderly that will die!” But, even with all of that, we can agree to celebrate this landmark law! Many people, our elders fought and died waiting for its passage.

I cannot be the only disabled person conflicted about the anniversary of this landmark legislation. Yes, I recognize that there are many who came before me that fought for it and continue to advocate for its applications in daily life, but as a Black disabled person, I also recognize the way it’s been selectively enforced, attacked and utilized to create a wedge between disability and worker’s rights.

Prior to the pandemic, disabled people were told that the accessibility we needed was cost-prohibitive and unlikely to be implemented only to watch as the institutions that barred our inclusion make those tools available now that nondisabled people needed them. We called for polling places and voting procedures to be made accessible only to watch as politicians shut down polling places in predominantly black neighborhoods. We begged for businesses to be inclusive and accessible to disabled customers only for accessibility to be pitted against small businesses and workers’ rights.

And now, unironically, they celebrate.

They celebrate not weighed down by their own words calculating the amount of acceptable death it would take to reopen the economy. They post our pictures celebrating their own “diversity and inclusion” without confronting the fact they only became accessible because of a pandemic and as they loudly push to reopen, they amplify our voices for now with no plan to continue to include the disability community as businesses start to reopen.

I’m angry.

But I am also filled with love and gratitude for my community.

Celebrating the passage of civil rights laws has always felt, to me, like celebrating this country for finally doing what it should have done in the first place. We uplift and deify martyrs fighting for progress when they should have been able to live freely according to the ideals this country claims to be about. (We know they’re not about that life.)

So, I have made a compromise: I will celebrate the community that saved my life, not the country that threatened it in the first place.

Disabled people shouldn’t have to be resilient, but I celebrate our resilience anyway.

Disabled people shouldn’t have to be creative to combat an inaccessible world, but I celebrate our creativity anyway.

Disabled people shouldn’t have to shout for equity and inclusion, but the chorus of our voices is a melody that brings me to tears in gratitude.

So, today, if you’re feeling conflicted or demoralized on this day, the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, I ask that you celebrate this community. I ask that you celebrate yourselves. I ask that you celebrate the elders that have made it this far alongside us.

So here’s to all of you, the reason why I celebrate today.

5 comments

  1. You beautifully express the truth of the enormous anger that I think most disabled people harbor regarding the lip service given to inclusion. Every little thing is only grudgingly given, only made available in the most minimal form to technically comply with law, but not to evince the spirit of inclusion. Thank you for saying it plainly.

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