By Ray Campbell
Last Monday we celebrated the birthday and work of one of America’s greatest civil rights icons, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As I think about the advocacy work we in ACB are engaged in, it’s reasonable to ask, does our work relate to the things Dr. King stood for?
The Americans with Disabilities Act, our civil rights law, was, I believe, a descendant of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, for which Dr. King worked passionately. I believe the kinds of things we are advocating for, such as the right to independent access to the ballot, our work on accessible currency, independent access to prescription medications and others directly impact our right to self-determination. We need to work for independent, private access to the ballot, regardless of how we choose to vote, so that we can clearly say that we know our vote was cast as we wanted it to be. Low vision devices are just as important for our community as the right of individuals of color to live where and how they choose, which is why we need to continue to educate members of Congress about them and get entities such as Medicare to cover the cost. The right to be educated in the least restrictive environment is as important for us, as is the right of all children, regardless of the color of their skin, to receive the highest quality education in a safe school.
In many ways, I believe the organized blind movement has taken lessons from the work Dr. King did. We are not afraid to go to Congress and ask them for the things we want and need. When necessary, we will demonstrate peacefully to get our issues and concerns out there. A vivid example of this was in 1993, after two individuals who were blind or visually impaired were killed because transit systems neglected to install detectable warnings on the edges of their platforms. Several ACB members and friends rallied at the U.S. Department of Transportation offices in San Francisco to honor those who lost their lives and protest this clear ignorance of the law.
We are not afraid to go to whatever lengths are necessary to see that the laws designed to help us are followed. While in many cases we have accomplished our goals without litigation, other times we have gone to court such as in the recent and ongoing lawsuits over the installation of accessible pedestrian signals in New York City and Chicago, respectively.
The work ACB has done and is doing is no different than what Dr. King stood up for. We as a blindness community have our dream too, that one day we’ll live in a world where accessibility is part of all products, not an afterthought. Where we have a truly equal opportunity to get any job we want based on our qualifications. Where our children can truly compete with their sighted peers in school and not be held back by lack of materials they need or teachers who do not understand their unique needs. And, where we are equally as safe as sighted travelers on our nation’s streets.