It’s chilling to think about American society’s former attitudes towards people with disabilities a hundred, fifty, and even thirty years ago. It wasn’t long ago that they were ignored and forced to fend for themselves, or worse, relegated to cruel institutions and shoved out of society. Thankfully, we’ve come a lot way in the last generation or so, and because of our increased acceptance, real progress is being made to help people of nearly all levels of ability live healthy and fulfilling lives. Here are a few key examples.
People with physical disabilities, from those that need wheelchairs to others with difficultly to walking or other ambulatory problems, now have more access to public spaces. This comes in many forms, from bathroom modifications for disabled community members to ramps and elevators. Much of this is thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, or ADA, which prohibits discrimination, bolsters civil rights, and promotes accessibility for people with disabilities.
Integration in Education
Education has also made significant advancements. Many children with mental disabilities like Down Syndrome and some forms of Autism formerly had to go to special schools or spend all day in a special education classroom. Now, the preferred path is known as the “least-restrictive environment,” which means that the student’s Individualized Education Program, or IEP, lays out a map in which they can be with students in regular classrooms for as much of the day as possible, only leaving for individualized teaching when necessary. This provides vital peer contact and encourages interactions and friendships that are helpful both ways, as well as increasing the quality of education the child with the disability receives.
The increased awareness, acceptance, and inclusion that people with disabilities are now afforded spills beyond social and educational circles. Medical research now receives more funding and support than ever before. We understand more about the autism spectrum and therapies for people born without limbs than we did thirty years ago. Prosthetics for people with ambulatory conditions are advancing as well. And life expectancy for adults with Down Syndrome has nearly doubled since the mid-80s, nearing the same range as the average American.
We should certainly be proud of the progress we have made, but we shouldn’t rest on our laurels. If these efforts have taken us this far in the last few decades, imagine how much we can accomplish with priorities of inclusion and acceptance in another then, twenty, or thirty!