This past weekend, Allison Lourash and I represented Little People of America at a planning retreat of the National Disability Leadership Alliance. The coalition is made up of 14 national disability membership organizations. The group came together three years ago in an effort to organize around national policy issues that impact the disability community. For a few reasons, LPA is not as involved in policy issues as the other organizations are. For one thing, LPA does not have a presence in Washington, D.C.. Also, LPA has traditionally been a support and resource organization. Though LPA will continue to be a support and resource organization, the group hopes to create a formal policy agenda over the next few years. This will be particularly important in 2013, when the LPA National Conference will be hosted in Washington, D.C.
While talking about the prospective 2012 policy agenda at the NDLA retreat, the groups involved searched for common ground, with each other, and around something that would resonate with the general population. Though each group represents people with disabilities, each group has a specific agenda. We searched for a way to tie each agenda together and build support from people who may not have a connection to disability. It didn't take long to find the common ground, not in a specific policy initiative, but in the experience of the individuals represented by the NDLA Committee members. The National Federation of the Blind shared a story about a couple who had their newborn child taken away from them because they were deemed unfit parents, simply because of blindness. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network reported that a seven year old autistic boy was forced by his teacher into a sack and restrained in that sack on repeated occasions because the teacher had no other way of responding to the boy's disability. I told the group about the man with dwarfism in England who, while hanging out with friends at a pub, was picked up by a stranger and thrown. He was targeted because of his short stature.
At best, these stories represent the marginalization of people with disabilities. At worst, these stories reflect that, even now in the 21st Century, people with disabilities are still targets of abuse, assault, humiliation and degradation, simply because of their differences. While these stories are all tragic, they provide a banner around which LPA and other group can rally. And they provide a banner around which we can build support for the rights of people with dwarfism and people with other types of disabilities. With that support, hopefully, we can pursue a policy agenda that will further inclusion, independence and opportunity for all people with disabilities.