Editor’s note: Access Press board members are writing guest articles to highlight the newspaper’s matching grant campaign, which goes on until year’s end. This article is by John Clark.
It seems these days that more often than not, network evening news closes with a feel-good story about someone with a disability – usually young – overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. A mascot for the rest of us. Scant attention is paid to the life circumstances which leave people with disabilities isolated with opportunities for a fully realized life severely diminished.
For nearly 30 years Access Press has provided a platform for telling our stories and a forum for the creation of what Martin Luther King described as “the beloved community.” Now we need the community to step up. The Friends of Access Press has extended its offer to match donations up to $10,000 through the end of December. The money you give is doubled.
In the October edition of Access Press, our board member Mohammed Alfash drew a distressing statistical portrait of people with disabilities as the most disadvantaged group in nearly all quality of life issues.
From the Emancipation Proclamation to women’s suffrage and the Supreme Court gay marriage ruling, American history is a story of expanding civil rights and more widely shared prosperity. Seminal moments in the history of civil rights for people with disabilities include the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Olmstead decision.
Since 1990 Access Press has been the lodestone for those of us with disabilities. Through the pages of Access Press, we create and re-create a sense of community. The stories provide depth, nuance and above all context. Collectively, as a community we hold ourselves to standards of virtue as we co-create lives of integrity and contribution.
The personal is political. When we share with each other, we enrich our sense of who we are and who we might become. We find common cause and identify allies. We are moved to action. We understand how better to effect change.
When I was three years old, doctors told my parents that for my own good I needed to be institutionalized. My parents said no. That was in the 1950s. With the advocacy of my parents, I was mainstreamed. With the help of vocational rehabilitation, I earned a master’s degree in social work. I helped many to realize their dreams of a vibrant and fulfilling life.
As our regular featured History Note documents, much has changed for the better. Our pages profile the lives and challenges of people instrumental in the movement of our community toward inclusion and civil rights. As advocates we are informed of events and resources.
But we live in a time of retrenchment. For increasing numbers of Americans, people with disabilities represent “canaries in the coal mine.” Hearing the telling of our stories is a gift to America at large.
Prevailing wisdom must be questioned. In The Wounded Storyteller, the Canadian anthropologist Arthur Frank cites Audre Lord, “My silence had not protected me, your silence will not protect you.”
As a person with cerebral palsy, I find hope within the pages of Access Press. Nowhere else does one find detailed coverage of legislative action, an overview of regional events, editorial opinion and articles from diverse members of our community. Detailed accounts matter in the development and implementation of policy. The shortage of personal care attendants and proper medical care lead to life-threatening infections. Individual education plans without required measurable specific outcomes leave children with disabilities and their parents with a patchwork of empty promises. The role of the press is to hold institutions accountable.
The allocation of public resources diminishes with the rise in recent years of rugged individualism. Social Darwinism results in diminished opportunity and even death for those considered less fit.
Fear of economic and social marginalization animates people across the political spectrum. Stories provide the possibility of creating resonance and common purpose and a reinvigoration of the American dream of inclusion and opportunity.
Adlai Stevenson described patriotism as the slow, steady dedication of a lifetime. The landscape of the media is changing. Your donations to Access Press help ensure that our voices continue to be taken seriously. To donate is to invest in ourselves.
John Clark is a member of the Access Press Board of Directors.