October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month – of which most people are unaware.  This lack of awareness exists because the evolution of disability rights is not a topic that garners much attention in our society.  But it should be, especially now, when so many of the basic benefits and rights for which the disabled have fought are under siege.

Thankfully, the third, and hopefully final, attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act has failed.  The dramatic cuts to Medicaid embedded in the Graham-Cassidy health care reform plan would have been disastrous for people with complex, pre-existing medical conditions, including many persons with disabilities. 

Gaining steam in Congress is legislation (The ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017) that would make it significantly more time-consuming and burdensome to enforce the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Also, the Federal Department of Education has scaled back the power and available resources of their internal divisions that monitor civil rights abuses, which directly impacts children with disabilities in schools and community settings.

And then there is Charlottesville: a torchlight procession meant to evoke similar marches by Hitler Youth erupts in violence and ends in tragedy.  The spectacle, particularly the Nazi symbolism, unnerved the disability community as well as African Americans and people of the Jewish faith.  As highlighted in a recent opinion piece for The New York Times, the disabled were the first victims of the Nazis.  Indeed, from 1939 to 1941, between 75,000 and 250,000 people with intellectual or physical disabilities were systematically killed under Aktion T4, the Nazi “euthanasia” program. 

Many Americans are also unaware of disability rights movement history in the U.S.  They do not know, for example, that until the 1970s some states maintained “ugly laws” that made it a crime for persons who were “unsightly or unseemly” to appear in public.  They are uninformed about the forced sterilization of the mentally ill and the mistreatment, institutionalization, and segregation of citizens with disabilities, as well as the efforts of those who fought against these forces and championed the civil rights of the disabled. 

This unfamiliarity with the history of disability rights movement is not surprising.  It is a subject that is not taught in any depth in our local schools. This educational/informational void makes it harder for people to talk about disability, and consequently, disability gets left out of important discussions around equity.

Evanston CASE is committed to changing this – to shining a light on disability, facilitating conversations about disability, and removing barriers that prevent people with disabilities from accessing the benefits of this amazing community.  

For more information about the services that CASE provides, visit our website at www.evanstoncase.org.