Wednesday, August 19, 2020

CRT Awareness Week: Where Do We Go From Here?

An OT kneels in front of a pediatric client, showing her proper technique for propelling her yellow, manual wheelchair. The OT, wearing a red top, places her hands on the rims of the wheelchair. The client, wearing a light blue top, watches and places her hands on the rims.The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is often recognized as the climax of the Disability Rights Movement. While it remains an important piece of legislation, it has never been more important for us to continue advocating for disability rights. 30 years ago, public buildings weren’t legally required to be accessible for people with disabilities. Since I'm a power wheelchair user, that reality is extremely uncomfortable to me.

Before the ADA was passed on July 26, 1990, disabled people were forced to stay at home and live mostly solitary lives. We did not have equal access to pursue an education, to work, or even to spend time with friends and family. The ADA forced our country, and its citizens, to recognize that these accessibility issues go against our basic, human rights. As a result of the ADA, disability is now more visible than ever. For example, while there were never any disabled characters in movies and TV shows, disabled actresses and actors are now starting to be cast for a variety of roles. Additionally, commercials are beginning to feature wheelchair users and people with developmental disabilities. While there’s certainly room for improvement, I want to point out that we are making progress. This point is very important for understanding where we came from, and for what we need to do in the future.

A man in a manual wheelchair is posing in front of a few palm trees. He wears a green graduation cap and gown. Smiling into the camera, he leans forward, folding his hands and wresting his wrists on his knees.
I wouldn’t say that disability is becoming “normal" or "mainstream" in our society. However, by featuring disabled people in popular movies and shows, disability becomes much more visible and is difficult to ignore. Why does this matter? Let’s say that you have never met a disabled person, but you watch the hit TV show Glee. Since one of the main characters is a wheelchair user, you finally witness what it might be like to have a physical disability. Just by watching the show, you begin to learn things about wheelchair users and disability, and start to form ideas in your mind about both. Are these definitions completely accurate? Of course not! But the show still forces you to recognize that disabled people are real, and that we have goals, feelings, jobs, friends, talents, hobbies etc. It shows you that disabled people are different, but that we are still people.
A man in a power wheelchair rolls toward a tall building. Around the building, there are a number of palm trees. The sky is a clear, bright blue.
Despite all of the positive change, people with disabilities still deal with discrimination every day. For those of us with complex disabilities, we constantly struggle to get the equipment that we need to survive. I am one of many people that rely on Complex Rehab Technology (CRT) to live a happy, healthy, and productive life. CRT includes any wheelchair that is modified to meet the unique needs of the wheelchair user. Since these devices are expensive, CRT users have had to fight for our rights to CRT. Without it, we’d be stuck in bed, unable to attend school or work, or even care for ourselves. Since CRT is extremely important to our health and well-being, it's not an exaggeration to say that we’d be at risk of getting sick and experiencing other health problems, including death.

A man in a power wheelchair is speaking to a congressional staff member. They are in a congressional office. A rug underneath them bears a seal and says: "U.S. House of Representatives." The walls are dark blue.
So, how do we advocate for ourselves, and also for our disabled friends and family members?  We start by teaching others and telling our stories. That process will help us to spread awareness about disability and the importance of CRT. We should also lean on organizations such as NCART and NRRTS, which help disabled people advocate for our right to CRT. In my experience of speaking with Congressmen/women and Senators, I learned that they don’t want to leave us out. The sad reality is that most of them just don’t understand. And if they don’t know about the issues that we face on a daily basis, how can we expect them to support laws that protect the rights of disabled people? One of the most important things we can do is to educate disabled people and able-bodied people, by showing how they can become disability advocates. Advocating for disability rights, and our rights to CRT, shows our legislators why we deserve equal access. CRT is essential for disabled people, because it allows us to survive, to thrive, and to succeed.

Want to get involved with CRT advocacy? To read up-to-date news, and to learn how you can help, check out NCART and NRRTS!

Kyle Romano

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