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Laws and disability: you can make a difference.

Recently, Jackie Brand (executive director of the Alliance for Technology Access) told us that she was invited to join a group of Americans who will work with the Czechoslovakian government to help them create a democratic constitution. The Czechs wish to include provisions for people with disabilities and she was asked to share her expertise. She wanted to know what universal truths have emerged in our experience and how these could be incorporated in a constitution.

We have been increasingly impressed with the principal of inclusiveness - the rights of all people to grow, develop and participate in "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." All of the legislation related to people with disabilities enacted in the past 20 years stems from this principle - laws ranging from The Education for All Children Act to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

We have also learned that the passage of legislation is only the beginning of ensuring changes in the lives of citizens with disabilities. The importance of citizen monitoring in an active and continuous way has been made clear. The way that the laws have been carried out in different states is directly shaped by the attitudes, beliefs and understanding of the citizens in each state and in each local community. This means that the continued progress of a law is dependent on concerned citizens remaining actively involved in an ongoing monitoring and educational process that informs their neighbors, community and political leaders.

This educational responsibility is particularly important during this election year. Each of us must make an effort within our communities to teach every candidate for public office at every level of government - town, city, state or national. Parents and professionals have an everyday understanding of the needs and challenges of individuals with disabilities, but we cannot assume that others have the same range of information.

Contrary to the current attacks on the credibility of all politicians, our experience has been that the vast majority of women and men who enter the political arena have a serious commitment to serve the public good. Let us remember that all the laws that have been developed and enacted have been the result of the efforts of parents, people with disabilities and other concerned citizens combined with the efforts of compassionate elected and appointed officials. Often these candidates have the interest of all citizens at heart but lack the personal knowledge (or the staff) to have up-to-date information about every relevant issue. They need our help in becoming familiar with the facts of the disability movement and the problems in implementing the goals of equal opportunity for all individuals with disabilities.

There is also an increasing concern with the finances of all governmental units - national, state, and local. Historically, whenever such pressures develop, it is often the least empowered, or the most recently empowered, segment of society that suffers. This means that our personal efforts to educate our fellow citizens and those who wish to be our leaders is even more essential. We must teach everyone about the various programs that have been proven effective. And, we must again remind our "students" that the efforts to change the lives of people with disabilities of all ages are not only humane and decent, they are also cost-effective. In fact, many of these efforts would prove "profitable" because productive, empowered human beings do good things for us all, and pay taxes, too.

At a very practical level, we urge each reader to try to find some time and energy to participate in the political campaigns and activities in whatever way you can on behalf of the candidates you feel best represent your interests and your commitments. If you have not already done so, you are likely to find participation to be informative and gratifying in ways that you may not have realized. Once you are an active part of the political process, you will have many opportunities to make a real difference and influence life in your community in ways far beyond other citizens who, for many different reasons, are unable to participate.

There has been great progress over the past 20 years. Those citizens concerned about children and adults with disabilities have come an incredible distance because so many "ordinary" people have been active participants in the political process as well as citizen educators. Once again, it is time to join together to ensure that all the vast changes of the past two decades continue.
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Author:Klein, Stanley D.; Schleifer, Maxwell J.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Apr 1, 1992
Previous Article:Children and the ADA: the promise of tomorrow.
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