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Essay on the future of the Disability Movement

by Kathleen Kleinmann

photo of balloons flyingIn many ways I am still new to the big, national scene on Independent Living. Although I worked as staff at a CIL from 1982 to 1986, I did not have much of a perspective on the overall movement. I did make it to the NCIL annual meeting with the University of Kansas in 1985. I got a glimpse of the big picture then. But, the few national news clippings that passed my desk back at work did not seem to be relevant to me.

From 1987 to 1989, I was employed outside of the movement. As I came back into the movement in 1990, ADA was just about a done deal. I felt as if I had missed the last big blast of the independent living movement. ADA was the end of the rainbow and there was little of significance left to do in the independent living movement.

What I am trying to say is that I still very strongly identify with those people who are fresh into the independent living movement.

But in this second life in the independent living movement, I was an executive director. I could choose to become part of the statewide and national political scene if I wanted. I hoped that there was something worthwhile left to do. I hoped that the positions of responsibility and influence within the movement were not reserved only for the old warriors who had survived the disability war.

I was afraid that I might find a tight in-crowd that would be difficult to crack. Looking back from where I sit now, I would have to say that it was not difficult at all. The group at NCIL and the group in our state disability movement was not exactly warm and cuddly but they were not unapproachable or preoccupied either. With a little persistence on my part and stifling my own personal shyness (which is really a major obstacle at times), I got a seat at the table with many of the old warriors. I made the most of the opportunity and picked their brain for tales of the history and visions for the future. Some of them even honored me by becoming my mentor.

Not only that, but I found plenty of tasks of importance left to do. I had to start out slow and prove myself dependable. I began by volunteering for the assignments that no one else wanted. Like chairperson of the planning committee for the first NCIL annual meeting to be held without the University of Kansas doing most of the work. I was the only one naive enough to take that task on. Later, I also accepted the unwanted role of NCIL Treasurer. What an awful and thankless job that was!

But, now I am doing the exciting work of helping to establish the American citizen's civil right to health care and establishing the consumer-controlled computer bulletin board network and CIL data management system you all know as DIMENET.

I have also have had the great privilege of serving as one of the soldiers of ADAPT. That is an experience that should not be missed by anyone who believes that they have been empowered by the independent living movement. It was pretty close to a religious experience for me. And, it is a very important contribution to make.

The future of the independent living movement is the people of the movement.

The future is those individuals who are willing to risk, willing to get involved and willing to learn as he/she goes along. The future is those of you who will speak up within the group to give all of us the benefit of your unique perspective on what is wrong with our society and how to make it right. It is those of you who understand that we are not in this just for a job or for our personal egos. The future of the independent living movement is that individual seeking to make his/her best personal contribution for the common good of our brothers and sisters in the movement.

Just as important, the future is those of you who believe in the democratic process of representation and of the power of the ballot as a means of progress within the movement. We are not a movement if we act only as individuals. We are not a movement if we are not interlinked, building consensus, and taking action together. In good faith and together, we must identify the problems and identify the solutions. Together, we must set our priorities and establish our policies. Together, we must act to fight for our rightful place in the American society, and indeed, the world society. Therefore, the future of the independent living movement is highly dependent upon your personal commitment to the democratic process within the movement. It is the evidence of your commitment to each other.

I want to encourage those of you who have been suspicious of the movement's politics and leadership. Please do not just silently shake your heads in frustration and leave us to our own devices. We will conclude that you do not have an opinion different than our own and that you support us when you do not. If you disagree with the leadership, it is more important than ever that you speak out and get involved with us. That is the only way that the movement will continue to address the needs of all the people of the movement and not just the elite of the movement. Our critics within the movement play a vital role.

I also want to encourage those of you who are old warriors that carry battle scars and are not sure that you can survive another blow. Do not give up on us. Do not retire from us. We need you to stay with us in your new role as historians, mentors, and heros. Your words to us can and will sway every debate or vote. Please continue to give us your best.

There are many battles left to wage in the disability war. Who could minimize the importance of a national personal assistance services policy, access to assistive technology, or the information super-highway. And clearly, we have many more struggles over the implementation of the ADA and the Rehab Act and even the Fair Housing Amendments. And, how could I omit the Telecommunications Act?

With all this on the line, how could any one claiming to be part of the movement feel that the independent living movement has peaked out? With all this on the line, how could anyone with a personal commitment to the independent living movement believe that they should not be part of the national political scene? With all this on the line, how could anyone believe that they should not be a part of a powerful coalition of fellow warriors, such as NCIL? Or APRIL? Or ADAPT?

The future of the independent living movement is the continuation of the building of our alliances.

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