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Message from our CEO
This September marked my 39th year of living with a disability. My 39th year since I was injured in a car accident at age 19.
When I was discharged from rehab in 1980, I found myself sleeping in a hospital bed in my parents’ living room. My future seemed rather bleak. Eventually, they added a spare room to the house with an accessible bathroom and a wheelchair lift. That lift is now nearly 40 years old and still lives in New York.
I didn’t want my life to pass me by. I wanted to be 19 again. I wanted to work again. I moved to Tempe in 1981 to attend Arizona State University, where I got a bachelor’s in justice studies and a master’s in health services administration. By the mid-‘80s I was volunteering, interning and advocating. By the late ‘80s I was working full-time.
No one expected that to happen. I was expected to go on Social Security disability, not become the CEO of one of the largest CILs in the Southwest.
Things were different back then. Rare were curb cuts, or working lifts in public buses. Heck, bus drivers wouldn’t even stop for people with disabilities, because they knew we couldn’t get in. People used archaic and offensive language to talk about people with disabilities.
I still encounter a lot of apathy. Someone blocked the ramp to my van by parking on the gridlines.
“Oh, sorry,” she said. “I didn’t notice.”
On another occasion, I had to wait in a restroom with four vacant stalls, because the accessible one was occupied.
“Oh, you’re right,” he said. “I didn’t realize that.”
39 years later, it’s the same discrimination in a different form: inaccessibility, ignorance, exclusion, condescension and pity. Some of my examples may seem like minor inconveniences, and to some extent, that’s true. I know the accessible bathroom stall will eventually be open. That’s better than none at all, like the old days.
But my standards are higher than, “It’s better than nothing.” That’s why I keep fighting!
We deserve better and we can achieve more change. Vigilant advocacy and public pressure is the vehicle. It made things better for me. And if we keep fighting, it’s going to make things better for the next generation.
See more by Clinton McDaniel.