Martin Luther King was a pioneer in civil rights, advocating for equality between the races. Forty-six years after his “I Have A Dream” speech, the United States has elected an African-American president, Barack Obama, and King’s dream has become much closer to reality than many ever thought possible.
On a day when we celebrate a man who contributed so much to civil rights and equal treatment for all men and women, it is important to realize that King’s dream encompasses the hopes of all people, no matter their race. One class of people, in particular, who still face discrimination are people with disabilities.
While the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 to prohibit discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, people with disabilities were not similarly protected until the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. Over the years, many buildings, jobs and schools have been renovated to better enable those with disabilities to enjoy. However, while many would agree that people with disabilities are now allowed better access to education and employment, those with disabilities still find the world difficult to access.
While people are now allowed into swimming pools regardless of race, how many swimming pools are equipped with lifts or other equipment to allow the disabled to enjoy? Drinking fountains and light switches are frequently placed too high for someone in a wheelchair to reach. Most crosswalk signs do not have auditory signals for those who are blind. Sidewalks are frequently broken and crumbling such that they are dangerous for someone who is not able-bodied. Many shops have aisles that are too crowded to accommodate people who need extra room to get around.
While people with disabilities have not been targeted by exclusionary signs, racial slurs, and the other cruelties experienced by African-Americans, they have been denied equal access to their world. Understanding leads to tolerance and equal treatment, and on a day when we remember a man who inspired a world to love instead of hate, remember that his message applies to all persons in this world, including those with disabilities.