LILLIBETH NAVARRO’S SPEECH FOR THE UNITED STATE OF WOMEN SUMMIT
Good afternoon and thank you all for being here! I’m Lillibeth Navarro, Disability Rights Advocate, Founder & Executive Director of Communities Actively Living Independent & Free (CALIF).
This week at the National Archives Museum in Washington DC where we made a short family trip, I learned that it was actually the women who convinced our founding fathers that the opening statement to the Constitution should be a more inclusive phrase. They suggested and insisted that “We the people” be written as the opening phrase. They deemed it as an inclusive and unifying statement appropriate in its context and purpose as a patriotic declaration. And so it goes even in history, the opening statement is perfectly complementary to our mission as women. America was born of women — mothers of patriots who were patriots themselves who took care of the wounded in battle knew that no nation ever thrives who excludes their women! “We, the People…” has made the Constitution a statement of human rights for all people- not just men and what womanly intuition that was! The “all” in that prophetic statement includes us too, people with disabilities.
But for years we endured the isolation, the exclusion, the rejection of our families and society—our experiences of discrimination as a protected minority were painful and dramatic, almost identical to other minority groups guaranteed protection under the Civil Rights Act Of 1964 which unfortunately did not include people with disabilities. We were an afterthought and only those programs receiving federal dollars could not discriminate against us. However, learning from the great Martin Luther King, Jr, we gathered our community and led a great big group of wheelchair warriors and disabled advocates to demand a radical change to the physical environment, to government policies, to travel and communication; to the field of employment and housing. Our intrepid women leaders like Judy Heumann, Diane Coleman, Stephanie Thomas, along with Ed Roberts, Justin Dart, and Wade Blank kept the movement alive by sending to Congress, discrimination diaries as authentic evidence of the need for our own civil rights act until the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, 1990.
The ADA in its stronger California version, already enshrines the radical concepts of physical access to all public and private facilities, so that all can go any where they please; for access to all forms of public transit; communications for the blind, deaf and reasonable accommodations for those with mental, learning and developmental disabilities. For the first time in our lives, people with wheelchairs could gain access to their friends, work, travel, etc. People with visual and sensory disabilities could touch, feel and see their environment, those with mental and learning disabilities became part of this human experience of exploring what life is about, what acceptance is and what being human means. We rose from obscurity to visibility, and even started an international revolution transforming countries and inspiring them to create access for their people.
However, beyond the physical manifestations of access and participation, are still the insidious obstacles of patronizing treatment, disrespect, discrimination, bullying, neglect and abuse. This July, the ADA is 28 years old but already in California, the ADA is being weakened by the office of the State Architect and the State Building Standards Commission. These government instrumentalities are fighting local activists who have gained incredible expertise and whose work over the years made California’s version of the ADA better than the federal version. Our disability access experts like HolLynn D’Lil and many others up North were excluded from participation in the current discussion of very bad proposals to weaken the ADA in California. To make matters worse, this trend has accelerated into a federal effort to weaken the ADA.
So, here is our CALL TO ACTION:
a.) Please call the California Governor Jerry Brown and tell him to stop the attack on the ADA and the rights of people with disabilities.
b.) Call your legislators to stop this misguided interpretation of access rights by the State Architect and his plans to reduce the ADA to a bare boned meaningless version to our civil rights.
No government should be able to go rescind our civil rights! They would not do that to women, to racial and other minorities, so why do that to us? Over our dead batteries! Our civil rights, as the Constitution says are God-given and inalienable. Creating accessibility where there is none is a renewing the face of the earth, it is challenging the creativity of the best scientific minds, it is dredging up to the max the compassionate and respectful caring capacity of the human heart for our community of people with disabilities. It also unleashes the unimaginable rewards of our contribution to humanity. Our role is to demystify the disability experience because disability and disease are part of human life. We are at the forefront living its enigma and frankly as a result, the enormous wealth of resilience and incredible capacity for patience and problem solving.
As technology progresses and tasks get easier and easier for us and as we in the disability community grow closer and closer to optimum functioning and participation, one day, we shall meet at that beautiful authentic point of human understanding and our children will reap the rewards of such incredible connection!
CALIF Executive Director
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