What we're up against
When Paul Tobin gave the keynote speech at CELA yesterday, he wanted the audience to know what they’d be up against on the Hill today—deep-seated attitudes about disability that most people don’t even know they have.
The same attitude that makes people shout at blind people or treat anyone in a wheelchair as mentally disabled began with Plato, he said.
The renowned philosopher said people with disabilities should be “put away in an unknown place.” That exclusion continued through biblical times, he said, with people who were imperfect being cast out to the edges of town.
He took us through the years, giving more examples of this attitude as time went on—FDR refusing to be photographed in his wheelchair because of fear of public opinion, people with disabilities being turned away at Ellis Island, eugenics laws for people with disabilities that lasted in some states until the 1980s.
People with disabilities are considered somehow unworthy of the respect, dignity and opportunity that everyone else gets, he said.
Since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), things have gotten much better, he said. Things that used to be only dreams are now reality—employment protections, architectural access, even curb cuts.
However, he said, “That’s all jeopardized if we don’t have the right equipment.”
Through the ADA and other measures, the government has spent millions to make sure that people with disabilities can participate in their communities. The contradiction here, he said, is that no one can access their communities without the right technology and equipment, yet Medicare says that people only qualify for that equipment “in the home.”
The new bill to create a separate benefit for complex rehab, H.R. 4378, gives that “in the home” requirement the boot, and that’s one of the things people will be fighting for today and in the next several weeks.
Tobin recommended that people speak passionately about why the bill is so important.
“When they look at a piece of legislation, they need to see your face,” he said. “We need to make them understand that what we're talking about is significant.”
If we can eliminate the barriers in society, he said, disability is meaningless.
If that’s not a rallying cry, I don’t know what is.