29 July 2012

Disability History at the National Constitution Center

California recently passed a bill mandating that the history of the LGBTQ movement and the history of the disability rights movement be taught in public schools alongside the history of the African American and Black civil rights movement and the women's civil rights movement.

And now the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has Justin Whitlock Dart, Jr.'s wheelchair -- the one in which he sat during the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act -- as a permanent exhibit, placed next to Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's robes upstairs. This event was marked yesterday (Saturday 28 July 2012) with speeches from former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and Justin Dart's wife, Yoshiko Dart, a panel of speakers from the disability rights movement (including Eric von Schmetterling, a representative from Senator Tom Harkin's office, and a few other folks), and a Disability Pride Parade coordinated by the local chapter of National ADAPT. The announcement was made that Disability Pride Philadelphia will actually become an annual event.

Eleven-foot tall [nearly three and a half meters] puppet of Justin Dart, wearing a navy blue suit jacket, gray suit pants, a white collared shirt, red tie, and brown cowboy hat facing his left side from a gigantic wheelchair. Justin is a fair-complexioned White male who is also wearing rectangular glasses. I [Lydia] am standing in front of the Justin puppet, wearing khaki pants and a maroon shirt with the text 'Organizing autistic people...' visible while holding a large white poster with the colored block letters 'Autistic & Proud' in marker. I am a light-complexioned Asian female with short black hair cut slightly past my chin, wearing round glasses. To my left, viewer's right, there is a Black woman wearing a white tank-top, black capri leggings, and black and hot pink sneakers, holding a tall, thin white cane and a white leather purse. To her left, viewer's right, there is another Black female, shorter than the first, dressed in a blue t-shirt with a graphic of a person in a wheelchair inside a dark blue star, black pants, and black ballerina style shoes, holding a folded red bag that says 'Disability Pride, Lead On!' in white block letters.
























This is awesome.

I hope it represents a step forward nationwide, and that more educational institutions, museums, and centers of learning will continue to incorporate disability history into curricula, exhibits, and cross-cultural or diversity programming.

Our history needs to be taught. Not only is it a disgrace that much of the general public remains oblivious to the fact that there has been and is a disability rights movement, but it is appalling that millions of people with disabilities, including many disabled children and youth, are unaware that we have a long history of community and struggle. This needs to change. The more we build and perpetuate our legacy, the more we will become integrated with society.

Most documentaries and writings from the disability rights movement are disseminated, viewed, and read within the disability rights community. This is not a bad thing in itself, but these materials are not migrating to a mainstream audience or to disabled people outside the disability rights movement. Disability Studies programs -- almost all of them graduate programs -- at distinguished universities must commit meaningfully and actively to make their materials and programming linguistically and intellectually accessible to the public and especially to the disabled public. Disability rights organizations -- both cross-disability and disability-specific organizations -- must continue to forge public partnerships, coalitions, and collaborations both with one another and with non-disability civil and human rights organizations fighting along the same principles of dignity, equality, and inclusion.

So many people who either acquire a disability later in life or learn of a disability later in life find themselves alone and isolated, and do not know where to turn or from whom to seek support. These people need to know that there is a vibrant and diverse community waiting to embrace them and celebrate them. The more exposure our movement and our history receive, the more likely people who acquire a disability or learn of a disability later in life will be to know immediately on whom they can count for support and encouragement. They will know not to turn to predatory and harmful organizations like the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) or Autism Speaks, and they will know that there are positive and civil rights oriented organizations like the National Council on Independent Living and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network waiting for them.

This is the world that we are fighting for -- a world in which all disabled people, regardless of other identities or specific disability, have equal rights, access, and opportunity as non-disabled people. And part of that starts with our history. A people without a history can hardly be said to be recognized as equal. The fact that our history is beginning to be included in mainstream exhibitions and discussions points toward the progress that we've made in advancing our goals and drawing attention to our movement beyond our own communities.

I'm new to this. I'm young. And I am proud of my history and heritage.




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Image description:

Eleven-foot tall (nearly three and a half meters) puppet of Justin Dart, wearing a navy blue suit jacket, gray suit pants, a white collared shirt, red tie, and brown cowboy hat facing his left side from a gigantic wheelchair. Justin is a fair-complexioned White male who is also wearing rectangular glasses. I (Lydia) am standing in front of the Justin puppet, wearing khaki pants and a maroon shirt with the text "Organizing autistic people..." visible while holding a large white poster with the colored block letters "Autistic & Proud" in marker. I am a light-complexioned Asian female with short black hair cut slightly past my chin, wearing round glasses. To my left, viewer's right, there is a Black woman wearing a white tank-top, black capri leggings, and black and hot pink sneakers, holding a tall, thin white cane and a white leather purse. To her left, viewer's right, there is another Black female, shorter than the first, dressed in a blue t-shirt with a graphic of a person in a wheelchair inside a dark blue star, black pants, and black ballerina style shoes, holding a folded red bag that says "Disability Pride, Lead On!" in white block letters.

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