Fighting for Hopes

Judith (Judy) Heumann was born in 1947 and like a number of children at that time, was inflicted with polio.  She was not allowed to attend the local public school because the school claimed she was a fire hazard.  In place of being in school, she was given home schooling for two hours a week.  Eventually, she was able to attend a school for disabled children (separate but equal??).   When enough parents protested the action of the school system, she was allowed to attend the community high school.

Heumann graduated from high school and went to college at Long Island University.  She was denied a teaching license by the New York licensing board, again claiming she was a hazard to her students.  When a local newspaper took up her cause, the state licensing board allowed her to teach.  The headline in the paper was, “You Can be President, not Teacher with Polio.”

Heumann and her supporters founded an organization to advocate for people with disabilities.  They were able to get Congress to pass legislation ensuring rights for those with disabilities.  Unfortunately, the legislation was vetoed by President Nixon.  Eventually, legislation was passed culminating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.

It’s hard for any caring person today to think that Heumann was treated fairly as she tried to get an education and have a fulfilling career.  The history of all societies is that basic human hopes are often denied by those in power until they are forced to grant them.  Scare stories are invented to deny these hopes.  Those who are afraid of change are aroused by populist leaders until the denial of basic hopes becomes very unpopular.

Once the right to fulfill hopes is granted, the fear subsides and the reality that was feared never materialized.  In fact, the ADA has often led to improvements in work practices that makes them better for everyone.

Valuing the hopes of others looks beyond differences to imagine contributions.  The remorse of those who denied hopes can be profound.  Just imagine how those who wouldn’t let Heumann attend school felt about their actions years later.

While our Declaration of Independence states that citizens are endowed with certain unalienable rights, it still takes years of effort to secure these rights and years more to have them widely accepted. Why is it so hard to accept the hopes of others?

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“Human beings have an inalienable right to invent themselves; when that right is pre-empted, it is called brain washing.”  – Germaine Greer (Australian writer and public intellectual)

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