From Norman’s Desk – October 2017

New Jersey will be holding its Seventh Annual Disability Pride Parade and Celebration in Trenton this month.  The event is organized by the Alliance Center for Independent Living based in Edison, and I’m proud to have been a part of the parade since the beginning.

I have told this story many times, and the underlying philosophy remains important to emphasize each year.   I have recruited people with disabilities to march in past parades. One year my neighbor sarcastically asked me: “Are you proud of that stutter of yours?”  Since I’m always reminding him that he cannot see too well and that he is dangerous in a power-chair, his well-aimed barb is routine banter between people comfortable with their disabilities.  His comment, however, started me thinking about the incongruity of pride and disability.

It is incongruous to take pride in not being able to do something.  There must have been some onlookers at the parade in the past asking: What are these “broken-down people” with crutches and in wheelchairs doing marching around proclaiming their pride?  How can they be proud when they can’t do anything for themselves?

Well, that is the point.  Society’s view of people with disabilities can be so negative, so weakening, so smothering of spirit that overcoming that negativity can be empowering and something to be proud about.

As people with disabilities, we put up with so much crap imposed upon us by society, the government, the system, and the people in our lives that it is a wonder that any of us have the energy and initiative to be independent, productive, or active.   

But we are independent, productive, active, and we need to own it and show our pride in what we do!

This applies to every person with a disability no matter what their situation.  Our lives are a precarious “high-wire acts” of low income with under-funded supports that keep us more dependent than independent.  One false step drops us into the abyss of institutional living to be trapped and robbed of personal initiative, independence, and dignity.

Yet every day we get up to perform on the “high wire” defying negative attitudes, preconceptions, prejudices, and fears.  Some do it with drudgery.  Some do it with gusto.  Most people with disabilities live our lives somewhere in between.  We do it every single day.

This is why we should have pride.  This is why we need to display our pride publicly and loudly. This is why we celebrate our pride in ourselves and our community. 

 

Norman A. Smith,  Associate Executive Director – ProjectFreedom1@aol.com

Follow me on Twitter @normansmith02    Follow Project Freedom  on Twitter @TheFreedomGuys    “Like” us on Facebook.com/ProjectFreedomInc

 

From Norman’s Desk – August 2017

Norman A. Smith, Associate Executive Director

This year will be the twelfth time in my life that I cast a vote for the governor of NJ. I remember back in 1973 being forced to vote two weeks ahead of time by absentee ballot because my polling place was not accessible. I remember in 1992 being challenged at the poll because of my disability, and I remember the empowerment I felt by calling a state hotline while at the poll to “fix” the situation to my satisfaction.

Times have changed for people with disabilities in terms of voting ease. Now most polling places and polling booths are accessible. Voting early by mail is encouraged for everyone in many states. Yes, there are still barriers to voting—especially in other states, but there is no excuse for any person with a disability not to vote.

Yet LAST YEAR I read an article FROM the Arizona Capital Times about people with disabilities voting, and it cited a report from the Research Alliance for Accessible Voting. The report said that people with disabilities voted at a lower rate than their able-bodied peers in the 2012 election. The rate was 56.9% in the able community vs 48.1% for people with disabilities. Our vote was 12% less than people who were able-bodied, and we wonder why some elected off do not pay attention to us!

The article also contained a quote from Phil Pangrazio, a person with a disability and the CEO of an Arizona-based center for independent living. Pangrazio said: “With barely half of our commu-nity overall voting in any given election, it is critical that we each take our civic right – and our duty – seriously. Not voting may just be one of the most selfish and irresponsible acts a citizen could commit.”

I agree with Pangrazio—especially with what is happening in Washington and Trenton these days. Nothing about us without us, right? Well, the decision process for our issues is moving ahead at all levels of government. We need to be involved! We need to be involved from the start by voting! Before we demonstrate, before we sit-in, before we get arrested, WE NEED TO VOTE!!! The rest is meaningless unless we exercise our right to vote. To paraphrase our great leader Justin Dart: We need to vote as if our lives dependent on it! We all need to vote on November 7!

Norman A. Smith, Associate Executive Director – ProjectFreedom1@aol.com
Follow me on Twitter @normansmith02

From Norman’s Desk – July 2017

Norman A. Smith, Associate Executive Director – ProjectFreedom1@aol.com

Our nation celebrates its Declaration of Independence from Great Britain on July 4th. We celebrate the idea that this nation wanted to be free from rules, regulations, and laws created without input from the Colonies.

We also celebrate the concept that each person has equality in the eyes of the law. Although many have tramped upon this basic concept throughout our history, its promise has survived thanks to the sacrifice, blood, sweat, and tears of many.

As we celebrate Independence Day, we need to remember what we are celebrating and why. We need to remember the sacrifices of those who have died for the concepts of independence, liberty, and freedom. We must also remember that the fight is not over for people with disabilities, and, indeed, remember that the fight is only beginning for many of us.

The promise has been slow in coming for people with disabilities, and for many of us, equality is still not here, is still a concept enjoyed by others, and is a promise that still needs to be kept.

The promise is a lofty one, yet for some people with disabilities the promise translates into more practical considerations: the freedom to make choices in their daily lives, to be responsible for their lives, and to be a contributing part of their community.

Freedom and independence are grand sounding words, but for some they mean the right to do simple tasks. Freedom and independence are empty and hollow words when a debate about the worthiness of the lives of people with disabilities is encouraged by silence in one of our nation’s oldest institutions of higher learning.

Expecting the promise of freedom to be kept without struggle and sacrifice is foolhardy. Again, our history teaches that participatory governance over oneself or one’s country means stepping up to participate and sacrifice. Individuals must take up the cause of freedom, work together, and battle for the promise to be kept. This is true now for people with disabilities. The pictures below show the most recent participation through peaceful disobedience at our Nation’s Capitol.

So, while we celebrate what happened 241 years ago, let us remember for many of us with disabilities the struggle for freedom continues!