People with disabilities have a glass ceiling, too.

Rooted in Rights welcomes articles by guest authors to enhance understanding about the rights of people with disabilities. This piece about barriers to employment for people with disabilities is contributed by Shawn Murinko, former Washington State Human Rights Commissioner, located in Olympia, Washington.

I was just shy of fourteen when the ADA was passed in 1990. I’m now almost 39. In this time, a lot has changed. And despite its aim, as President George H.W. Bush put it, to “let the shameful walls of exclusion finally come down”, those walls, and the shame that comes with them, still cast an ominous cloud over the promise of equality.

A quarter of a century later, it seems like we have accepted the easy wins. We have ramps. We have buses. We even have a seemingly anemic uptick in the employment of people with disabilities. As we blow out the candles on the ADA birthday cake, I have more than a wish. I want the light from those candles to mean something and to be something, not just for the disability community, but also for our other allies, as they endeavor in their quest for equality and social justice.

A big win came for LGBT community in their fight for marriage equality last month. We need to capture their momentum. In order to do this, we need to reach out, not only to their community but to other communities as well. Their community needs to become our community and vice-versa.

I’m convinced that the only way to accomplish this is to cease the infighting within the disability community itself. All too often, while sitting at the table, I’ve heard: “that’s a blind or deaf issue” or “that’s a mental health issue.”

Intrinsically, equality is not segregated. It stands in direct opposition of it. The time has come to stop opposing ourselves and instead move forward with a unified and inclusive message, much like the LGBT has done with marriage equality. Let’s learn from this success. Let’s understand how it came to be. As a result, our message will not only resonate with clarity within our community, it will with others as well.


3 responses to “People with disabilities have a glass ceiling, too.

  1. Shawn, as you know, I discovered long ago that we all have to pull together if we are going to make ADA a reality for all to enjoy. I am having good results in seeking to improve wheelchair access, but my own disability (near deafness) is much harder to address. I returned to one county courthouse ten years after they made the facility accessible for those with hearing loss and found they were back to their old ways. That courthouse was completely back to square one, but they now promise (yet again) to become compliant. This is only a problem with hearing loss access. As soon as they are left alone they remove the devices we need for hearing loss access. This does not happen with wheelchair access, as once it is fixed it stays fixed. Now I feel I am going to have to repeat my round of visits I first made ten years ago and find out how many courts are once more thumbing their noses at ADA. Do you have any suggestions?

    1. At the same time that “glass ceilings” are being broken by other marginalized groups, people with chronic illnesses are being stigmatized further by a society that basically is moving in a direction to make their lives seem worthless, or a like a burden to society, as a response to socialized medicine.

      Thanks in part to Brittney Maynard, and other pro “right-to-die” activists, the rights and respect of the self-worth chronically and terminally ill and disabled are being trampled upon worse than any time since WWII Germany. The right of one terminally ill person to commit suicide shouldn’t be hailed by the media as a courageous act, when so people are already taught that their less than perfect lives are disposable, burdensome, and worthless. That’s the current message in society: you don’t have to suffer in a hospital or with disabilities, you can choose to die and not be a burden on loved ones, family members, or tax payers. While other “civil rights” causes take the spotlight, euthanasia is being ushered in to offset the costs of a “no cost” healthcare system.

      Don’t take this the wrong way, I don’t go for ‘conspiracy theories” and I do believe in universal healthcare. And I do believe in the right of every American to get the best healthcare that they deserve, disabled or not. But only when the cost offset by a separate tax or program to make up the costs of treating patients. The life of every human being, disabled, terminally or chronically ill matters- That’s what we should be teaching, and I think that’s the next greatest civil rights issue of our time; The humane treatment of the ill and the dying with regards to their humanity and right to live as any healthy human being has the right to live.

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