Pondering the Meaning of Liberty

By Mark E. Seifarth

As of late, my pen and my keyboard have been a bit silent as I sort through the cacophony of opinions & ideas on the recent nation shattering events.

Then, on an early morning news and comment program, Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Jon Meacham gave me a gift, he spoke about a quote from President Ronald Reagan about losing liberty and freedom.

I believe the quote in part reads, “”Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”

As we try to put the historic events of the last months into context and relevance, and how to address the deaths and injuries of Capitol Police Officers defending the U.S. Capitol, let’s ponder for a few brief moment what freedom and liberty have meant to the disability community.

Full disclosure, I look at this through the view of a person with a lifelong disability who personally experienced one and more of these current events.

What it has meant thus far, that we still have much liberty and equality yet to achieve for people with disabilities, and perhaps with importance, what it means to lose our liberty and our country’s liberty.

Let us remember just some examples of over more than 50 years of hard work and sweat that achieved liberty:

  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ensuring equal access to free public education and appropriate special education for children with disabilities.
  • Rehabilitation Act (and its many subsequent iterations) not only giving access to job training services and later independent living services & centers for people with disabilities but also very importantly Rehabilitation Act Section 504 banned discrimination on the basis of disability by recipients of federal funds.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act & subsequent ADA Amendments – The White House archives called the ADA “a landmark moment in history.”    “…On July 26, 1990…America became the first country to adopt a comprehensive civil rights declaration for people with disabilities. The ADA was a landmark moment in history, designed to provide universal accessibility in the areas of employment, public service, public accommodations, and telecommunications.”
  • Olmstead Decision – the United States Supreme Court held in Olmstead v. L.C. that unjustified segregation of persons with disabilities constitutes discrimination in violation of title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

With those examples of achievements in the disability movement, we must remember that we have yet far to go under the protection of our Democratic Republic that for over 200 years has espoused freedom and liberty for all, not just those with the biggest club. Just a few examples of yet to do:

  • Repeal Section 14 ( c ) of the Fair Labor Standards Act permitting subminimum wage for workers with disabilities.
  • Equal access to Home and Community-Based Services – so people with disabilities have equal access in our society and to their communities where they wish to live with informed choices.
  • Access to affordable high-speed internet and technology across the country in both urban and rural locations.
  • All have access to affordable health care coverage without having to live in poverty.

So, why the brief history lesson of what has been achieved and the short litany of work yet to be done?

Because perhaps John Meacham and President Reagan have shown us a path to the future.

Without our Democratic Republic with its Three Branches of Government (Executive, Legislative, Judiciary) – where one branch does not attempt to take over the others – we would never have had the opportunities to achieve the equal access we have thus far and continue to work for a fairer more inclusive future.

With respect, do not forget governments in this world that disregarded liberty & freedom and how the rights & lives of people were cast away with that liberty.

Our history teaches us that we must preserve the freedom and liberty of persons with disabilities (and all people) in each generation to come.

Remember when other governments decided our rights and lives had no value and acted accordingly.

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