By Larry Johnson
Do you care about Social Security benefits, Medicare, SSI, SSDI, food stamps, the cost of prescription drugs, health care services, broken sidewalks or potholes in the street? Does it matter to you how much you pay for taxes or how safe you and your family are in your community from gun violence and crime?
Do you vote? Or are you one of those people who think voting is a complete waste of time, and keep on complaining about how the government is a total failure and that nothing you can say or do will matter?
Then you are a victim of apathy. And you are right. Nothing will get done to make things better. Because you don’t care. And if you don’t care, why should the politicians? Their attitude reflects your attitude. If you don’t give a damn, why should they? It’s a lot easier to do nothing and then complain. Your inaction, your apathy, your failure to speak up and speak out gives politicians and elected officials the permission, the excuse, to do nothing.
In July the Americans with Disabilities Act turned 28. So, you may ask, what has it done for me? Has it gotten me a job? Installed ramps at the restaurant across the street from where I live? Made the power company send me my bills in braille? Forced the city’s Emergency Management Operation to create a system to notify and assist me in emergency disaster situations? Convinced people to stop treating me like a helpless, pitiful burden on society?
No, it hasn’t done hardly any of that. So, why should I care about the ADA? Why should I bother to celebrate it? Whose fault is it? The government? The politicians? My parents? My neighbors? The courts? Well, none of the above. It’s your fault. Because you didn’t care.
Ask yourself: What have I done to help the ADA live up to it promise? Did I vote in the last election? Did I tell those candidates running for office what my concerns were? What programs I wanted them to protect? What policies I wanted them to change? How many phone calls have I made, emails or letters have I sent, meetings have I attended, hours have I spent speaking up for my rights or those of other individuals with disabilities? How many elected officials have I approached to tell them about my personal concerns, about the injustices that I have experienced?
We have a choice. We can focus on all that has not yet been accomplished by the ADA. We can lament the lack of affordable housing, the high cost of health care services, the continued high unemployment among persons with disabilities, and we can surrender ourselves to apathy, complacency and inaction. And who would blame us?
It’s easy to give up, to listen to and believe the politicians when they say nothing can be done. It’s easy to tire of the struggle, the never-ending daily struggle of trying to deal with the accumulated barriers and injustices experienced by persons with disabilities.
But still, we have a choice. It’s a hard choice. It is the choice to have the desire, the courage and the commitment to be willing to be advocates for change.
Being advocates means believing that our efforts, that our vote, can make a difference. Things will get better for people with disabilities only when people with disabilities themselves are convinced that it is up to us to make them better. We can no longer afford to waste our time or energy in blaming society, public officials or our families or friends for the state of affairs we’re in. Nor does it serve any useful purpose to see ourselves as helpless victims of a cruel society. We are in charge of our destiny. We have in our hands the power for change.
So, here we are just weeks away from another important election. What will we choose? The road of apathy, complacency and dependence? Or the road of advocacy and self-determination? It’s up to you, and it’s up to me. In the last midterm election in my county, just 12% of registered voters cast their vote. What about yours? I doubt that it was much higher. Will we let a small minority of voters decide our future? There are some 47 million people with disabilities of voting age in America. Our vote could make a difference. Your vote could make a difference. Will you vote?