- By Barbara Davis -
In the 26 years that I have been working for CAL in some capacity or other, I have seen a lot of positive changes take place for individuals with disabilities. I am proud to say that in various ways, I have had some small part in some of these changes, particularly in the area of awareness.
Recent changes in my disabilities have caused me to pause and reflect back on the long road we have come. This reflection has also made me aware of how far we still have to go.
As a teenager in the late 60s and early 70s, I used a wheelchair until surgeries and other treatments enabled me to walk with a walker, then a cane, and then “corrective” shoes. I lived in Florida then, which means that every time visiting relatives came to our town, my family took them to the various tourist attractions in that fair state. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to go to many of them because the attractions were not accessible. I stayed home and waited for them to bring me souvenirs from wherever they went. These days whenever I go home I can go to any tourist attraction I want to, whether I am using my chair or not. I can also fly home with my much greater ease than I could when I first moved to Louisville. Having said that, trying to board a plane with multiple disabilities today is still not a picnic.
I am thankful that I don’t have to walk up to total strangers in the mall or elsewhere and ask them to make a phone call for me. Before cell phones became widely used, phone booths had finally become equipped with amplifiers so that I could make phone calls myself. Currently, I have a cell phone that is hearing-aid compatible. The volume could stand improvement, but most of the time I can hear on it decently enough if I really concentrate.
Thanks to improvements in transportation and other services, I can a ride a bus to almost anywhere I want to go, and I can call 211 to find out how to get on a 10-year waiting list for attendant care, a ramp, housekeeping assistance, or some other service. I can remember a time when buses weren’t accessible, and none of those services were offered at all, let alone complete with a waiting list.
The heat this past summer has caused my MS and other disabilities to worsen. I am once again using a wheelchair. I am not sure yet if this will be permanent, as without health insurance I cannot get the needed diagnostic care and treatment. Without medical documentation, I can’t get the services I need, so I feel like I am almost back to the point I was when I was a teenager, only this time I don’t have parents to help me out the way I did then.
What I have discovered during this second time around in a wheelchair is that while there are more accessible buildings than there used to be, there are still a lot of buildings that are not accessible. There are a lot of sidewalks in this town that are difficult – some even impossible – to ride a wheelchair on. There are curb cuts that don’t really seem like curb cuts, and people leave trash cans and other heavy objects in the middle of the sidewalk, so that I am not able to navigate my chair any further until someone moves the object for me.
I have also discovered that while disability awareness has improved attitudes and perceptions that able-bodied people have toward those of us who use mobility devices, there is still much room for improvement. Every day I encounter those who talk down to me as if I were a child, who rush to do things for me without giving me a chance to do them myself, and who stare at me as those wondering why anyone would let someone like me out in public.
My reflections on how things were then and how things are now lead me to the conclusion that, yes, things are much better for people with disabilities than they once were. Changes in laws, in attitudes, and advances in technology have enabled us to live full and independent lives, as long as we can get the services we need, or are able to afford the technology that exists to help us in many areas. I am also keenly aware that those of us who work and/or advocate for disability rights and services cannot rest on our laurels. Although we have come far, we still have a long way to go. We must not stop advocating for funding, for advances in technology, for pubic accessibility, for improvement in employment opportunities, and other services and programs that will enable us to become fully independent and integrated into our community. We also need to continue to improve awareness, so that attitudes toward us can keep advancing. With all of us working together, we can enjoy a bright future for ourselves and geerations to come.