Whether Barack Obama was your choice or not, he is our 44th president and I hope you join me in welcoming him as the first African-American president of the United States. His plan for supporting people with disabilities, as many of you probably know, is quite straightforward and comprehensive. We can only hope that he can carry it out and yet, I also think it’s wrong for us to think that anyone can make these big changes happen by themselves. We have to make it our job as well. First, and it’s a pretty simple thing, will be to help our president get the United States of America to become a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and have it ratified by the Senate.
Obama’s plan also includes education for people with disabilities. More of us in the disability community need to take advantage of educational opportunities and become lifelong learners. Obama has committed himself to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and has promised increased funding for higher education. Many in the disability community have benefited already from IDEA, but many more of us need to take advantage of the funding for higher education. With college educations, we can get better jobs, and President-Elect Obama has promised to make available more government jobs and to promote private industry to continue hiring people with disabilities. He has said, “I am proud to support the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act of 2007,” which would give us the care we need to get out and take advantage of these other rights to people with disabilities deserve. And in return, of course, we have to become taxpayers and consumers who contribute toward paying our fair share. We have to be part of the solution to the problems that lie ahead for others with disabilities. Listen to Obama explain his positions on disability policies in a video at www.barackobama.com/issues/disabilities/
“We must build a world free of unnecessary barriers, stereotypes, and discrimination …. policies must be developed, attitudes must be shaped, and buildings and organizations must be designed to ensure that everyone has a chance to get the education they need and live independently as full citizens in their communities.” — Barack Obama
Locally, we’re celebrating Access Press author, Pete Feigal, who has won the Charlie Smith award this year—and it’s well-deserved. Feigal has been transforming the views of the disability and larger communities for years. I’ve seen Feigal speak in many venues, from a seminar of 15 or 20 people, to a keynote speech for hundreds of faculty at the University of Minnesota, to a television interview on spirituality and mental health issues on PBS. And every time I’ve heard him speak, he tells a different story from a different perspective and uses a very broad array of insights and analogies to help people understand life with disabilities. As just one example of his influence, Feigal has changed the way that police perceive and respond to people with disabilities, especially people with mental health issues, in the Twin Cities and throughout Minnesota and the country.
Pete has written for Access Press for many years, but his words have also been printed in publications of every kind throughout the world. And while he speaks of profound things, his words have not come to him easily. He has struggled most of his adult life with his own mental health issues while dealing with the changes that multiple sclerosis have brought to his physical body. Losing his eyesight has also limited his ability to continue producing some of the most beautiful art work that I’ve ever seen. Being a motorcycle enthusiast myself as a youngster, I sympathize with Pete on losing the physical ability not only to ride a motorcycle but to enjoy the artistic experience of taking those machines apart and re-fabricating them into your own works of art.
He wouldn’t want to be called an inspiration, but I don’t think he could deny that he has inspired many people over his life. I’m very proud to call Pete Feigal my friend and to know that he considers me a friend—and a brother in the biker world. I would give him the shirt off my back, but maybe better, I’d also give him a valve cover gasket to continue his ride.
We’re starting a new section or column in Access Press spotlighting individuals and organizations that are Minnesota-based. When your organization has achieved new goals, has made outstanding achievements, or just has some good news to spread to the community, let us know. If there’s a person in your circle who has achieved a lifelong goal, or taken a step above and beyond, or has just been an inspiration to you, let us know, and when space is available, we’ll highlight these individuals and organizations in “People and Places.” Send news items to firstname.lastname@example.org and soon you’ll be able to post these items on the new Access Press website.