Graphic: The Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement

Gerald Belchick

Audio transcript: On the legacy of the Cowell Hospital program
Date: October 2, 1998
Interviewer: Sharon Bonney

Note: Transcripts have been lightly edited; therefore there may be slight discrepancies with audio clips.


Bonney:
What do you think is the legacy of the Cowell program?

Belchick:
Oh, I think the CIL movement, without a doubt. The CIL program and allied programs was the legacy. I think the disabled—I think it was the time in which they lived, the political climate in which they lived, and then just sort of quirky twist of fate that put them all together in one place that said, you know, "We can organize, and we do have a voice, and we can insist that certain things be looked at." We don't have to be shunted hither and yon just because that seemed to be the way the government—I mean, they would have been more than happy, much more than happy, if they stuck them all in a convalescent home. It would have been less expensive. God knows, it would have been less trouble.

Bonney:
Those pesky disabled people.

Belchick:
Oh, yes. It's so much easier, you just sort of get out of sight and go sit in a rest home. Why not? You get fed. You go through life. It's very discouraging, very discouraging. Hasn't changed. It's not changing now. Even with a [President William Jefferson] Clinton in office and a Judy Heumann up there, it still hasn't changed a whole lot. It's just too much trouble. It really is. It's just too much trouble.

Bonney:
Do you think it had an impact on the disability rights movement?

Belchick:
Yes. Only in the sense, well, not only, but in the sense that it produced spokesmen. When I was doing research for my doctoral thesis, I remember reading a comment that was made by some Southern congressman, I think [Senator] Strom Thurmond, but somebody like that. He was making a comment. Somebody asked him what was it that struck fear into the hearts of senators and congressmen? And he said, "To hear the tip-tip-tippy tap of blind people with their canes coming down the hall of Congress." And that's true.

I think when the disabled groups began to have spokesmen who were articulate and who were reasonable and they were being heard, I think it gave great impetus to the fact that maybe now we need to pay attention. I don't believe the blind would have gotten anything if they hadn't organized over the years. The whole physically disabled community is only where it is now because they have organized. You know, you're not a bunch of screaming radicals that don't have a program. It didn't come out that way. It came out reasoned, measured, reasonable—the spokesmen for the disabled groups. I think it made all the difference. I don't think we would have had what we've got now if it hadn't been for those kinds of spokesmen.

You know, Ed was a great one for that. I mean, he commanded attention wherever he went. And he was reasoned. He wasn't a [Senator] Jesse Helms. He was reasoned.

Bonney:
What gave him his power?

Belchick:
I just think he was an exceptionally bright man to begin with. I think it was a case of just not being willing to accept. You know, Rehab turned him down when he first applied for services as being too disabled. I didn't do that, but—. He was sixteen, and they said, "No, you're just too disabled. You're in an iron lung. What can you do?"

Bonney:
He showed them.

Belchick:
He sure did.

End of transcript


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