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September 26, 1991


 

Don't Be Afraid To Stare

By Dawn Teresa Parkot

Dawn Teresa Parkot shares her thoughts on the inclusion of the disabled in the finer things of life.


 

The Constitution of the United States of America guarantees citizens the right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We have witnessed the erosion of the right to life under the guise of freedom of choice for potential mothers. We slowly allow our individual liberties to be taken from by our government. This occurs when it is easier to grant them more power than to stand up as individuals. But, I’m not going to discuss these heady issues. I’m going to address the right I feel has the most impact on the disabled community. I’m going to tell you what you can do as individuals to make the world a better place to live. You, right now, right here, can make a difference just by changing the way you think.

Let me tell you from the onset, I don’t get around like anyone else on this campus. I don’t talk like anyone else on this campus and I don’t particularly look like anyone else on this campus. Aside from that, I’m just like everyone else.

In case you haven’t guessed, I’m going to discuss what for me and probably for most of the disabled community, is the thing we seek most. We just want to be included.  For us, inclusion is the pursuit of happiness. About 25 years ago, the civil rights movement began to draw the attention of the American public.

 

This was a drive for inclusion of minority citizens into the mainstream of American life. Disabled citizens owe a great deal to the civil rights movement. Because of them, equal opportunity truly exists as an enforced mandate under the law.  

However, like a single black student at an all-white school, the government cannot really enforce the inclusion, which comes from acceptance.

 

The segregation, which plagues the disabled community, comes from a variety of sources. For years, people have been taught that dealing with a disabled person requires special skills. These skills take on the aura of a medical degree. There is brail, singing and adaptive equipment of all kinds, which reinforce this misconception. Probably the greatest source of this segregation is the medical and social services establishment.

But a new, fresh wind is blowing through these bastions of second-class citizenship. On a grass roots level, disabled people are saying, “Enough!” Separate is frequently not necessary. Separate is also never equal. Just let us get on in our own way among you.

Don’t be afraid to stare. We know we look different. In fact, we look funny or frightening to children. Just get the staring over with and the next time you see one of us, it’s no big deal. The next time you see us, you may include one of us in a conversation. You may share a dirty joke or the latest gossip.

Don’t be afraid to ask a question. How did this happen to you? We know this is a question we ask of each other, so why shouldn’t it be asked by able-bodied. Just be ready to do whatever it takes to hear the answer.

The finer things in life are not just five-star restaurants and front row center tickets. The truly finer things in life are being part of a community where one is allowed to partake and give. Now slowly, surely, you can make this happen.