Are We Making Real Progress?

 In Advocacy, Diversity and Inclusion

As I travel the world and speak about Disabilities and Inclusion I am often asked if I think we are better off today than when I was born.  “In some ways we are”, I state.  “Technology, for example, has made our lives better, but the social acceptance of persons with disabilities has not progressed nearly as far as gender acceptance or racial inclusion.

 If we ever needed proof of our lack of social acceptance by mainstream humanity, please read the following. 

“National Federation of the Blind Comments on Belgian Euthanasia of Deaf Men Losing Sight”

For Local (Barr)Baltimore, Maryland (January 15, 2013): The National Federation of the Blind, the largest organization of blind people in the United States with over 50,000 members, including many deaf-blind individuals, commented today on the state-sanctioned death by lethal injection of deaf twins in Belgium.  Upon learning that they were also going blind, the deaf twins sought and were granted euthanasia.

Dr. Marc Maurer, President of the National Federation of the Blind, said: “This disturbing news from Belgium is a stark example of the common, and in this case tragic, misunderstanding of disability and its consequences.  Adjustment to any disability is difficult, and deaf-blind people face their own particular challenges, but from at least the time of Helen Keller it has been known that these challenges can be met, and the technology and services available today have vastly improved prospects for the deaf-blind and others with disabilities.  That these men wanted to die is tragic; that the state sanctioned and aided their suicide is frightening.””

Over the past several years I have seen a variety of discussions concerning whether or not fetuses should be aborted if it is determined that they would come into this world as disabled children.  Some physicians and even some genetic scientists in the United States have used their “expertise” and visibility to advocate for such practices.

ABC News ran the story about the Belgian euthanasia decision after the two brothers were dead.  I have not seen any worldwide outcry about this.  While we have those in this country who state that they value the sanctity of human life I can only wonder why they are not outraged about the Belgian decision or about any other situation where aborting a potentially disabled  child or promoting less than equal treatment of persons due to a disability is put forth.  If our political leaders spoke out about the horrible Belgian decision it has not been front and center in the news.  Why?

During President Obama’s most recent press conference the makeup of his new cabinet was discussed.  While “diversity” through racial and gender issues were mentioned there was not one question about why a person with a disability is not included as a candidate for any cabinet level position.  Why not?

Last month our republican controlled House of Representatives did not support a United Nations treaty which promoted more world-wide substantive rights for persons with disabilities.  Many excuses were given which did not relate to the issue at hande.  How can our country’s citizens hold their heads high when we cannot show that we support the progress of rights for “the disabled”?

The fact that a blind man like me or like Dr. Maurer can make a public comment about this issue means that we are making progress on some fronts.  However, I again submit that as a society here in the U.S. much less throughout the rest of the world social acceptance of disabilities has not occurred.  I will know that humanity has made real progress toward acceptance of persons with disabilities when people no longer think it AMAZING that I travel independently.  I will know that I and my wife, (Karen who uses a wheelchair), have arrived when we can go to church and be accepted as regular members of the congregation.  When I can go into any restaurant and be handed a Braille menu as a matter of course then I will believe progress has been made.  In short, when society recognizes that while persons with disabilities may need to perform tasks in different ways, none of us work the same way as everyone else, and that having a disability does not mean any of us is a lesser being than any other.


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  • Allison

    Hi Mike,,

    Like you I too am outraged that these two men decided to die and Belgian granted the request. I read your book and really loved it. Thank you for opening a door and describing what it is like to be blind. I found many of the things I do with hearing described in your book. I am totally blind like you, and found your book very inspiring. Please give Roselle, Lynny and Africa pets from me.


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