It was a thrill to meet Dr. Judith E. Heumann. I can think of nobody more fitting to give the keynote address at the local Rights and Responsibilities Conference marking the 12th anniversary of the ADA. Dr. Heumann’s address focused on where the civil rights of disabled persons has been, where it stands now, and where it needs to go. Looking toward the future, she shared the following call to action for persons with disabilities.
Ten Ways You Can Make the Dream Live
· Give up life as usual for example, escapist television and games, time-consuming and expensive travel and recreation and devote the time to passionate advocacy for individualized empowerment.
· Give up politically and socially correct conversation and become a single-minded, repetitious communicator of the message of individualized empowerment so that when people see you across the street, your message will register in their minds even though you say nothing.
· Speak to people with words of love, giving them sincere praise for the distinctive positives that everybody has. They will be glad to see you coming and be far more likely to internalize your message of empowerment.
· Recruit your family members and friends first. People from ages one to one hundred can be good advocates. Severely disabled people living in nursing homes can be good advocates. Small babies and dogs can wear buttons or signs with great effect.
· Become a politician, promoting your agenda every day through every political process. The vital election campaigns of 2002 and 2004 are fully underway. Volunteer and contribute money to the campaigns of good politicians. You will have ten times more influence than if you just simply ask them for favors. Get into politics as if your life depended on it, because it does so do the lives of your children’s children.
· Become a media person: write letters to the editor; participate in radio and TV talk shows; become friends with media employees, and business and political staff.
· Use electronic technology to send out brief points of discussion on the issues. Make sure they are 100% accurate. Most political advocacy is obvious hyperbole. It goes directly into the wastebasket.
· Be an aggressive participant in your local and national advocacy organizations from your local independent living center to disability and civil rights coalitions. If you support them, they will support your advocacy for individualized empowerment.
· If there is no cross-disability action group in your area, form one. Thirteen penniless people started the Christian revolution, and the same number started the modern Chinese revolution.
· When necessary, send your message of love and truth with action. You will be surprised how a small demonstration at a political, media, or business office can change attitudes.
Interview with Heumann
Beyond the insightful information gleaned from Dr. Heumann’s address, I was also able to ask her some questions one-on-one.
Linda Larson: What would you like to say about your friends, Justin Dart and Ed Roberts?
Judith Heumann: Justin was a very important part of my life. He was compelling and insightful. I miss Ed. He was beguiling. He did not come from wealth. He had a great mother. He was a visionary. He is a great role model. We must do much more to remember our leaders.
LL: What do you feel is your most important accomplishment?
JH: Moving through life. I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many people and a diversity of people.
LL: What do you have left to do?
JH: Changes have been made, but it takes a long time for substantial change. Discrimination is still pervasive and insidious. It will never be the way I imagined it should be.
LL: What gives you hope?
JH: There is a political awareness of disability rights in the United States. Disabled persons have become more mainstream.
LL: What about disability internationally?
JH: Life for disabled persons in emerging countries means poverty and death. Their governments must be responsible. The United States has not played the leadership role it could. There needs to be an international convention to set the standards under which disabled persons should live.
LL: What about special education?
JH: State and local communities are not taking the responsibility. Slowly the drop-out rate is declining. At our state universities, we need to train teachers to have general and special ed in harmony with each other. There is too much “we” and “them.”
LL: What about being a polio survivor as Ed Roberts and Justin Dart were, as you and I are?
JH: There is an advantage to having something in common. It helps me to reach out to polio survivors around the world: in Bosnia, the Middle East, Mexico, and elsewhere. We must stick together.
LL: Any final thoughts?
JH: Reach out to the newly disabled. Life is different. Life is good. Life is better if you fight for what you believe in.