What if there was a law that said you were a person regardless of what difficulties you have in life or how you were different than others. What if there was a law that said because you are a person you should have a fair chance to live as successfully in your community as anyone else? What if there was an anti – Murphy Law? What if there was a law that was not about coercing you into “doing something for your own good” but providing you access to the resources, skills and experience that allow you to decide what is good for you and build a better life despite the challenges you face? What if there was a law that said you could not invest in programs that would institutionalize people and take them out of their community without making a similar investment in resources and programs that would give people the living supports they need for them to remain in their community?
Such a law has been proposed . It is called the Disability Integration Act and has been introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York.
It does not say that we hope people with disabilities or challenges of some kind can make it in the community. It doesn’t say it would be nice. It says it is the responsibility of the state to plan on it, to provide the resources to make it possible and to insure that people in need have access to those services. It does not, as some recent proposals for mental health reform do, assume failure is likely. It assumes that people, even people with real limits, can and will build a better life for themselves given supports in living that make a difference.
The bill was developed by a wide range of organizations : physical disabilities, independent living, and mental health advocacy groups. It is meant to be applied to any group of people regardless of the challenges they face. There are someone told me 57,000,000 million people in this country who fall somewhere under the rubric of disability. If they spoke with common concern and common voice they could change this country.
What I like most about the bill is it doesn’t talk about specific disabilities, but the experience of disability shared by millions across all kinds of labels. It talks about differentness and how in that experience of differentness we are hurt and injured. One friend recently told me “After all is not every person with a disability a trauma survivor? ” Is it possible to look different, talk different, experience the world in a different fashion and still be afforded and regarded with the same dignity and regard that any human being should expect as a human being. This Bill says yes.
The psychiatric survivor/consumer/whatever term you would like to insert (every term I know insults somebody) community does a terrible job in reaching out to natural allies and as such we have missed the chance to build stronger allies and stronger voice. I am by no stretch an expert on this Bill. I am educating myself now and still have much to learn. But I am for it big time. It is a different way to see things that I think really matters. It is a way of saying the most important thing is not simply how any specific problem or disability affects my life but also how the experience of differentness affects and injures me as a human being.
I think to be human probably means to be different in multiple ways. If we are to complain about the ways others put us in boxes we must be careful of the way we box others. I recommend to you that you educate yourself on this Bill and consider speaking out.
It is time for people to speak out for the right of all people to be treated as people in a culture that knows that differentness is not the same as defiency and that better life need not be a closed door to anyone.