Message from the Executive Director
"I know who I am and who I may be, if I choose.” – Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
The independent living philosophy is built upon self-determination and choice. The ability to choose where and how we want to live empowers us and allows us to tap into resources within ourselves to fulfill our individual destiny.
People with disabilities have a history of being denied self-determination and choice. Historically, society has dehumanized people with disabilities by viewing them through a “moral” or a “medical” model. The “moral” model says that God has imposed a punishment on the individual, or,conversely, the individual is superhuman and must overcome challenges which the rest of us could never dream of enduring. The “medical” model looks at the person with a disability as defective and looks to cure them so they can be “normal” like the rest of us.
What is the effect of applying the moral or medical model? Both approaches dehumanize and separate the person with the disability from mainstream society. Ironically, both approaches also demand perfection but do not allow the individual to make decisions for themselves or attempt something and fail.
When we talk about creating a fully inclusive community, free from attitudinal and physical barriers, we are talking about ending the mentality that separates people from each other so that so-called “disabiity accommodations and modifications” will be built into the structures and programs in the planning stages, rather than as an after thought.
This July marks the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the landmark civil rights law which stands as the first comprehensive declaration of equality for people with disabilities. Those who remember life before the ADA recall discrimination based solely on one’s disability, in housing, employment, education, and access to the mainstream of American life. The disability rights movement gained strength from those who had suffered segregation before them because of their race or gender. Thousands of ordinary people with disabilities and the millions they spoke for fought for inclusion and declared, “We will not accept segregation, exclusion or second class citizenship any longer”. When President Bush signed the ADA into law on July 26, 1990, he stated, “Every man, woman, and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence, and freedom.”
20 years later, even as we celebrate and rededicate ourselves to promoting the goals of the ADA, there is still much to be done. As President Obama remarked on signing the Proclamation of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, “People with disabilities far too often lack the choice to live in communities of their own choosing; their unemployment rate is much higher than those without disabilities; they are much more likely to live in poverty; [and] health care is out of reach for far too many. Discrimination against people with disabilities is not simply unjust; it hinders economic development, limits democracy, and erodes societies.
CILO is honored to do its part in furthering the economic viability of people with disabilities by chairing the Palm Beach County Business Leadership Network (BLN) and promoting the Able Trust’s “Look at My Ability” Campaign. The BLN promotes the employment of people with disabilities by providing a forum for businesses to learn and share best practices to develop policies to hire people with disabilities.
The ADA is a reflection of the American Dream that a society is most vibrant when all of its citizens have an equal opportunity to thrive without attitudinal or physical barriers blocking their path. It is my hope, and the hopes of the dedicated staff here at CILO, that everything we do will further the creation of a fully inclusive society for all of us, which is free from prejudice and unnecessary barriers to achieving the American Dream.