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Are we free yet?

July 8, 2010
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

It's weird sometimes how these columns come to me. Most often, something infuriates me and, low and behold, the words just flow.

Somehow this process comes as no surprise to my husband. This time, however, I got my idea from a place that is quite the opposite-our pastor's message on the Fourth of July.

Of course, the topic was freedom which triggered in my mind the question, when we say this country has been "free" for 234 years, who was free on day one?

I think that we can pretty much agree that white men were free in 1776-but no one else had freedeom as most people know it today. White men could hold policital office, own property, have jobs, go to college, vote, etc. If you were a white man with money than-whoo hoo, the sky was the limit. Immigrants (wasn't everyone but the Native American's an immigrant at that time? Not according the white men with money), slaves and women would have to wait a very long time before they were all considered free.

Guess what? There are citizens in our country who are not free. Hard to believe, isn't it?

The Tri Lakes Center for Independent Living's mission statement is "Empowering people with disabilities to achieve free and independent lives."

Free lives. Why would any organization need to empower people with disabilities to live freely in 2010? What rights of ours are not being upheld?

Here are just a few:

The right to peaceful assembly. Chances are some people will not be able to get in.

Free speech. Love that one for a few reasons. Not everyone can speak and not everyone can hear. Very few people take the time to listen to someone who has difficulty speaking-take it from one who knows full well. People who are deaf may be very interested in finding out what is happening at a school or town board meeting. Heavens! They may even have something to contribute to the discussion!

The right to vote cast a private, independent ballot. Once again-this is New York State specific-wa, wa, wa "we have to put in expensive voting machines so everyone can vote." Too bad. You're OK with physically preventing people with disabilties from voting? Schools-you're no better. You thumbed your nose during the last school election by making a point of the saying you were not under the jurisdiction of the Board of Elections. Shame on you! One more thing on that topic-make sure the polling site is phyiscally accessible. That should be a no brainer but, sadly, it's not.

Those are taken straight from the Bill of Rights. Here are somethings that some people just take for granted but not everyone has or can do.

The right to browse through stores and window shop just to kill time. What's to prevent that from happening? One little step, sidewalks that are in disrepair, clothes racks and signs in the middle of the sidewalk.

The right to stop at a restaurant for a quick bite. Accessible parking and physically accessible restaurant are the obvious needs here but also, it would be great if the staff were trained in accommodating customers with disabilties.

The right to picnic in a public park. Same old, same old here-parking and physically accessible public park. A picnic table that can accommodate wheelchair users would be wonderful and an accessible public restroom would almost make it heaven on earth.

Those three example are probably something most people were able to do without a thought over the July Fourth holiday and also something the entire families were prevented from doing because the entire family could not be accommodated.

You may think, "so what?" but let me just hammer home one more point that may be an eye opener. How many of you have heard about the Veterans rehabilition and reintegration project called Patriot Hills or the Veterans satellite clinic? Were talking disabled American veterans here folks.

These are people who embody everything that the country is built on. These people are the ones who are ready to lay down their lives for our freedom and they are coming here.

Is this area prepared to give them all the freedom and independence they have secured for us? Prepared? No. Willing? Yes. Let's all get with the mission-Empowering people with disabilties to achieve free and independent lives. It's time to repay our soldiers.



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