Graphic: The Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement

Eric Dibner

Audio transcript: On the significance of the need for social supports for people with disabilities
Date: May 28, 1998
Interviewer: Kathy Cowan

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

I don't think anyone in this movement that I've seen has been a Martin Luther King.

The difference I think comes from King's sources in a religious approach. This was not a religious movement, although in some ways it's kind of like a religion. It was a social movement just like the movement for rights of an ethnic minority, but it's so much more related to mechanical and financial issues. It's not just about stereotypes, it's not just about social change, it's about bureaucratic change in a lot of ways.

The biggest difference between the people with disabilities gaining their rights and others gaining their rights of other kinds of protected classes is that in the disability movement people need specific supports from society. The problem is always to figure out how to provide those supports in a way that doesn't take rights away from people but grants rights to them and doesn't come on as hand-out. The history of handicap is a hand-out. Otherwise you wouldn't survive.

I mean, hey, in some places you don't survive. You're actually eliminated if you have a disability. That's kind of what we've done by just giving little crusts in the past. Now we're learning that society has an obligation to support, as part of its social service system if there's any social service system, the physically weaker participants. Some of these things don't require any support, some of them are just opening the door. So in that sense the part of the civil rights movement that applies to all people is the same for people with disabilities. We have to open the doorways in our mind or the blinders from our eyes to see that people with disabilities are just people and accept them as equals.

But on the other hand, opening that door sometimes means the ramp out front. And if we don't take the physical act of removing the physical barrier or providing materials in Braille or getting an interpreter at a meeting so that someone can participate as an equal, then that person isn't in the door, they aren't participating, they don't go to the city council meeting, they don't get to make their speech at the city council meeting. That effort to get the social supports has been one of the biggest fights in the disability movement. It's real easy to write a law that says, "Thou shalt be equal," but to put that into effect takes dollars.

End of transcript

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