Next week, we’ll be celebrating Independence Day for people with disabilities. Some years ago, Dr. Adolf Ratzka, a German academic who became disabled after contracting polio, shared the thesis “that differences in the attitudinal and material conditions determine disabled peoples’ life opportunities, how dependent or independent we can become.”
We know that this is true even if no human being is totally independent of others.
In the past decades, public transportation has become more accessible for those with physical impairments. We also have witnessed how technology has allowed not only more independence for those with intellectual or cognitive disabilities, but also has helped many people appreciate that those who cannot verbally communicate do have preferences and goals.
Isn’t Independence Day also a day about people’s voices being heard, regardless of the volume at which the individuals speak, or what technologies they use to do so?
Self-advocacy for all of us comes in small and big steps. Let’s not let the broader society around us discount those voices which are very quiet or need recognition to be heard. I think of two people, Jonathan and Jessica, talented artists whose voices can be heard through their work as well.
Dr. Ratzka’s contention is spot on—material conditions (availability of accommodations and assistance) and attitudes have a major bearing on the lives of people with disabilities including those with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and other intellectual and developmental disabilities.
And we can make a difference in these conditions and attitudes every week, perhaps every day, in making these conditions more acceptable, and more accessible.
Happy Independence Day, and may we all be able to celebrate freedom and acceptance.
Leo V. Sarkissian