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Leah Morrigan Headshot

The Fight for Disabled Rights Has Gone on Too Long

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Design Pics / Ken Welsh via Getty Images
Design Pics / Ken Welsh via Getty Images

Thank goodness for the 1960s and the upheavals it caused, I find myself saying these days.

It was a time of the dismantling of the old guard, where groups outside of the circle of old white men in suits who controlled everything fought for -- and gained -- their rights. The civil rights movement gave a voice and dignity to once oppressed groups: people of colour, women, gays and lesbians, children, the disabled, as well as entities that could not speak for themselves at all like animals and the Earth.

Though the movement for disabled rights began in earnest in the early 1900s, it wasn't until the mid-century civil rights movement that this group made great gains. Prior to this, the Anti-Defamation League explains that during the 1800s, people with intellectual and physical disabilities were greatly stigmatized and marginalized, pitied, and considered "unfit and unable to contribute to society, except to serve as ridiculed objects of entertainment in circuses and exhibitions."

Many disabled people were forced into institutions and asylums, and the "segregation of persons with disability were considered merciful actions, but ultimately served to keep people with disabilities invisible and hidden from a fearful and biased society."

As of 2011, The Guardian reports the global number of disabled people at 15 per cent of the population, or 1 billion people, and "despite a robust disability rights movement and a shift towards inclusion, disabled people remain second-class citizens."

Sadly, one in five disabled people worldwide still experience difficulties, but hope reigns eternal.

All over the world, individuals and advocacy groups support and offer services to the lives of the disabled, including the United Nation's Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) which has its own Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The UN organization's mandate includes respect, non-discrimination, full participation and inclusion in society, accessibility, and equality for disabled men, women, and children worldwide.

Specific to UNESCO's rights for the disabled are large North American organizations with profound and far-reaching services and philosophies for intellectual and physically challenged individuals. Community Options focuses on the betterment of the lives of the severely disabled and recognizes that these people require specific environments, special equipment and technology, housing, and clinical and staff support specific to their needs.

Founder and CEO, Robert Stack, recognized the importance of education for the disabled when he was just 13 years old. Through extensive education and international entrepreneurial business development in non-profit management, Stack went on to develop Community Options, an agency with a high quality and cost-effective reputation to support its clients. The not-for-profit operates 35 offices in the U.S. and has established housing, independent living, and medical assistance for 1,500 disabled people to date, and empowered thousands more. Clients receive job training and employment opportunities owned and operated by Community Options, or with community partners.

Born of the University of California at Berkley campus in the early 1970s, the Independent Living movement focuses on the rights of the disabled to lead lives of their own choosing and participate fully in society. Independent Living's philosophy was embraced in Canada during the 1980s and the European Network on Independent Living in 1989. It is comprised of individuals and community-based resource centres founded on the rights of disabled people to live with dignity and make their own decisions about their lives. Independent Living Canada thrives with many national disability organizations to support and assist the visually and hearing impaired, the intellectually and physically challenged, and mental health survivors.

These are only two of many worldwide organizations that respect the disabled and make life better for them and their families, and the outpouring of global support for these people is astounding. As we move further away from the antiquated thought of silencing disabled persons and hiding them in institutions, we can revel in the magnificence of the civil rights movement that has released all of us from the mentality of oppression to accept each other as we are: human beings, warts and all.