When Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial and told the world of his dream, it was not just his dream he spoke of, but the dream of all disenfranchised people yearning for freedom. Dr. King talked about a day when people will be judged by the content of their character rather than superficial differences. We have made a lot of progress since the marches in Selma, and yet the innate dignity endowed to all human beings that Dr. King talked about is still denied to many of our fellow citizens. It is difficult to believe that in the 21st century there are Americans who remain segregated and are denied even the most basic freedoms. A single step is all that is required to segregate millions of Americans.

Dr. King has had a great influence over the disability rights movement. For the Paralympics, which stands for parallel Olympics, which is held in the same facilities as its better-known Olympic brethren, we do not take our flame from Mount Olympus as does the Olympics. Instead it comes from Dr. King’s tomb. Rev. Dr. King reminds us justice cannot be denied for long. Separate is always inherently unequal. Dr. King also taught us that the powerful choose what is valued. The differences of our bodies are deemed more important than our capacity for empathy, justice, and tolerance. Our need for help is highlighted, while our capacity to give help is overshadowed. Dr. King knew what is possible once the yoke of inferiority is thrown off.

There are everyday Americans who live their lives segregated. There are Americans who are not free. They are segregated from the places that most Americans enter without a second thought. They are not able to choose where they live or if they work. They are not permitted to use many of this country’s systems of travel. Americans with disabilities are often classified as unemployable, and even if they obtain advanced degrees, they are often forced to choose subsistence and the medical care they need to survive, versus a job that they love, which makes a difference and brings meaning to their lives. With the medical care comes a disability check that in no way can realistically cover an American’s living expenses. When people who have disabilities enquire what their recourse is, they are told that they can live in an institution-a place with gates that keeps them segregated, away from their families and the simple everyday joys of which others freely partake. They have no right to privacy in their small rooms in isolated wards-places where far too few help care for far too many.

Matthew Purinton, MSW, LSW

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