I'm A Person, Not A Condition
As I sat on the White House lawn 20 years ago today and watched President George H.W. Bush sign the Americans with Disabilities Act into law, I knew it was a grand day for disabled people. However, I also knew that we still had a long way to go. While I could now roll my wheelchair into buildings with ease, I still had a hard time getting people to look me in the eye and see me as a person rather than a condition. Even today, 20 years later, my wheelchair still makes people uncomfortable.
Why is that? For the most part, able-bodied, "healthy" people still fear disability. As a nation, we treat disabled people more equally and humanely than any country in the world. However, most Americans, when they encounter a disabled person, first think of themselves, "I hope that never happens to me."
To me, that says we still have a long way to go toward recognizing people as people, no matter what they look like, act, walk (or don't walk). Unfortunately, many individuals' discriminatory attitudes stem from childhood. Studies of preschoolers have shown that they will choose nondisabled playmates over those with disabilities. I think it's just that most young children are not exposed to anyone with disabilities and therefore lack the familiarity that makes them comfortable around someone different from them.
(Joni Eareckson Tada is an author and disability advocate. Injured in a diving accident in 1967, she is one of the longest living quadriplegics on record.)