By Susan Fleming
This road has never been easy.
Did it get harder last week? Undoubtedly. A new president-elect who campaigned and won by fanning the flames of prejudice towards people of color, people who are gay, trans, of other religions and ethnicities. And, people with disabilities. Hard won, thoughtful and critical supports are on the chopping block, including cuts to Medicaid, a crucial support for people with disabilities, and the Affordable Care Act, which houses both the K Plan and the guarantee that you cannot be denied insurance coverage because of preexisting conditions. Yes, the fight just got harder.
If you’re a special needs parent, you have always had heightened awareness. You don’t just take your child to the playground, you scan for anyone who’s going to give them trouble or say something rude. You warily take your child to the orthodontist, knowing another mom was asked if it was “really worth” putting braces on a child with Down syndrome. You do not “sign up” your child for kindergarten, instead you are subjected to a battery of tests and evaluations. You have not had the luxury of relaxing, forgetting even for a moment, that we are in a daily fight for respect. The rights that other parents are handed in a pink-striped goody bag, we need lawyers for.
I’m so tired of finding post-election silver linings. I am alternately sad, terrified, and furious, but in the spirit of positivity, maybe there are a couple. One silver lining is more fellow travelers on the road. That man’s flagrant hate jarred a lot of people out of their apathy. My Facebook feed is filled with people who have pledged to watch out for people in marginalized groups. It feels like these gentle people are ready for a fight. I’m heartened by their mama-bear roars. I’m glad to hear of their raised consciousness. I’m stopping myself from saying, where were you before? What I am saying is, if you want to join the fight, let’s fight.
Not to mention, you couldn’t pick a better group to fight with. This isn’t our first rodeo. We do this every day. Our muscles are primed and ready for this work of resistance. NWDSA welcomes all. You were always invited to help create an inclusive civil society. A society that includes you, as you are, as you will be in the future. “Different” is a moving target, and if you are not marginalized now, remember at some point you could be. Let’s get going.
The other silver lining is that when injustices are highlighted across the board, it helps us see the common denominator. At the core for each group is the fight for a basic sense of dignity. Everyone wants a meaningful, purposeful life. Are we really here in America in 2016 fighting to love another person, to walk down our streets in safety, fighting to learn math with the other seven year olds? If we can concentrate on the core of the work – together – with increased awareness of each other as kindred spirits in the fight – well then, what a formidable band of merrymakers. That might even be a gold lining.
Hope is the thing with wings. NWDSA started out supporting parents of children birth to 5. That work led to creating inclusive schools. The All Born In movement came from the understanding that inclusion for one learner is inclusion for all learners. The work keeps reaching out and growing because ultimately it’s all headed to the same place. Universal design in education, in architecture, is universal dignity.
Inclusion is not only a cross-disability issue, it is a cross-humanity issue. Inclusion is the life you dreamed of. Inclusion is my friends who teach ESL to immigrants, inclusion is my friends who walk down Hawthorne with a red wagon handing out socks and peanut butter. Inclusion is aging in place, in your own house, because that’s your home. Inclusion is I hear you, I see you. Inclusion is: yes.
Society isn’t going to civilize itself. Our work did not change this week, but was perhaps intensified by this new context. And increased intensity can only be a win. Belonging is at the core of NWDSA’s All Born In movement and at the heart of our dreams for our communities. We will keep doing this work, post-election, pre-the-next-election, always. We do it for our children and families. We do it society. We do it for you.