Moving forward requires FORWARD MOVEMENT and PERPETUAL MOTION. We cannot get to where we want to go without unity of purpose, vision, and fearless determination. Remembering where we came from is the key to getting to where we want to go.
The way in which western society reacts to people with a disability has changed in many ways over time. Early Christians treated people with a disability with pity and developed a position of superiority over people with a disability. To many, disability represented an impurity of some kind.
During the Middle Ages, this belief increased and as people became increasingly superstitious, those with a disability became seen as the manifestation of evil. Some of the thinking was fostered by concepts of ‘the sins of the forefathers’ being manifested in the children. This lead too many disabled people being removed from the family and hidden away in institutions. It could be argued that the same prevalence of thinking was behind the removal of children from un-married women with those children then being placed into the “care” of the state in institutions such as the Magdalene Laundries, also known as Magdalene asylums, most women entering these such laundries were in fact unmarried mothers and in many cases these women were forced into such institutions by the powers of the Church and even family members who did not want to live with the ‘shame’ of having a woman in their home with a baby born outside of wedlock.
Many of these “laundries” were effectively operated as penitentiary work-houses. The strict regimes in the institutions were often more severe than those found in the prisons. Laundries such as this operated throughout Europe and North America for much of the nineteenth and well into the twentieth century, the last one closing in 1996.
World War 1, saw a dramatic increase in the number of people with a disability and the introduction of the concept of rehabilitation, where people with a disability were ‘retrained’. This approach continued after World War II.
The impact of the casualties of World War 1 and World War II then the Polio and TB outbreaks saw a dramatic increase in medical treatment, care and education for people with a disability, representing the beginning of ‘The Medical Model’ combined with the ‘Charity Model’ of disability – the idea that people with a disability needed to be cured and that others knew what was best for them.
This was the predominant attitudes to disability and “care” was provided in institutions where people with a disability were segregated from the rest of society.
In the 50’s and 60’s large numbers of previously non disabled people became disabled people after contracting Polio or TB and in the USA many people returned from the Vietnam War with significant disabilities.
The United States in the 1950’s and ‘60’s was a society in great change. A number of different movements developed side by side, all of which contributed to the birth of Independent Living. These changes included the Civil Rights Movement, the growth of consumerism, the rise of a self-help culture and a move away from segregating people with a disability in institutions.
It was within this atmosphere of change that a group of disabled students came together in Berkley, California to protest at their exclusion from mainstream society and to demand their own rights. This was the birth of the Independent Living Movement it was lead by people such as Ed Roberts, Judith E. Heumann in the USA and in Europe by people like Adolf Ratzka, Vic Finkelstein, Bente Skansgard, Mike Oliver, John Evans OBE, Lady Campbell of Surbiton and in Ireland by Martin Naughton, Joe T Mooney, Ursula Hegerty, Dermot Walsh and Florence Dougal and we borrowed and adopted Jana Overbo from America to name but a few.
People with disabilities, like the African-Americans, were seen as having been marginalised by American society. The idea that all human beings, including people with many different types of disabilities, should have equal rights and opportunities under the law, became the cornerstone of the Independent Living Movement
The Irish Independent Living Movement
Selina Bonnie a disability activist put it like this “The First Centre for Independent Living seed was planted in Dublin in 1992. This seed blossomed into an efficient and successful national movement. Throughout the years, many individuals and groups throughout Ireland and the world have praised the work of CIL and have acknowledged our organisation’s achievements.
These achievements are well documented and were chalked up along a very difficult, bumpy and inaccessible path. Many of us in the disabled community clearly remember the good, the bad and the ugly times. We started our journey as a nervous, ambitious and determined group of people n 1992, soon metamorphosing into a confident and even more determined body of people that provide a stronger and more effective voice of people with disabilities”.
Selina is correct it was a difficult, bumpy and inaccessible path but some disabled people throughout our history and our country who would not settle for second class citizenship set about identifying and then removing the barriers. People like Liam Maguire (IWA), Frank Mucahey (PWDI), Sinead Murtagh and Donal Toolan (Forum of People with Disabilities) and Martin Naughton (CIL) have beaten away some of the barriers which had made the path we travel difficult to navigate. In removing some barriers they have shown that with determination and vision, strategic thinking and application of the law and legislation the path can be made accessible.
Their main aim was and still is to empower and enable people with disabilities to achieve Independent Living, choice and control over their lives and to achieve full and active participation as equal citizens in society.
By Us With US can become the vehicle of choice for the next generation of disabled people who follow along the path opened by our hero’s. Together we can make another clearing in the road and make the next part of the road accessible to this and coming generations of disabled people.
Luther Vandross and the lyrics of Ain’t no stopping us now says it all for me I hope it says it all for you as well
“Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”
Now, are y’all ready? Are y’all ready?
Here we go now. Yeah, come on
Ain’t no stopping us now. We’re on the move.
Ain’t no stopping us now. We’ve got the groove.
There’ve been so many things that have held us down
But now it looks like things are finally coming around
I know we’ve got a long, long way to go, yeah
and were we’ll end up, I don’t know
But we won’t let nothing hold us back.
We’re gonna get ourselves together,
We’re going to polish up our act, yeah,
And if you’ve ever been held down before
I know that you refuse to be held down any more,
Don’t you let nothin’, nothin'(Nothin’ stand in your way, and all ago)
I want y’all to listen, listen (That’s right, to every word I say, every word I say about it)
Ain’t no stopping us now (that’s right)
We’re on the move (you said it, we’ve got the groove)
Ain’t no stoppin’ us now
We’ve got the groove
I know you know someone who’s got a negative vibe (who?)
And if you only happen they only keep you alive (shut up!)
They really don’t have nowhere to go
Ask them were they’re going, they don’t know
But we won’t let nothin’ hold us back
We’re gonna get ourselves together, come on
We’re gon’ polish up our act, yeah
And if you’ve ever been held down before
I know that you refuse to be held down any more