Our Most Important Rights

Over the upcoming weeks and months, we will be inundated with news, polls, legal battles, accusations, and denials, almost nonstop. And political ads, especially the kind where black is called white, and blue and red become green and yellow — when the truth is difficult to see and hear because so much combative messaging continually clashes and warps our ability to clearly see a pathway to a peaceful, harmonious world. And those of us with serious needs having to do with our disabling conditions will hardly be able to get in a word edgewise.

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Election years are always stressful, but 2024 may truly be a pivotal point in our nation’s history. We hear this every election year, but so much is at stake in our present circumstances. Never before have our priorities as people with disabilities been so important to our future. True, our needs are not usually considered the same as “the nation’s needs,” but if we do not speak out forcefully for our basic rights, no one else will.

Our Dependence on Basic Everyday Rights

Most of us take for granted that we have the right to vote and will always be able to exercise it. It is our one equal right that is guaranteed to secure all of our other rights. Yet due to extreme combativeness between our two major political parties, we now have a mostly dysfunctional Congress where political divisions are super-heated, and the absence of compromise and cooperation threaten to shut down the government itself. Major spending bills must continue to be passed to give us guaranteed access to health care, transportation, caregiving, affordable durable medical equipment, and the latest assistive technology. More than any other voting group, we as seriously disabled individuals must depend on some or all of these services and equipment in order to live our daily lives.

So much has changed since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Much of the change has been for the better, but the one thing that has changed for the worse is that both parties can no longer agree on our basic priorities or even our right to them. One party is threatening to defund or slash Social Security programs and the Affordable Care Act, both of which are vital to our everyday living.

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n 1990, by contrast, the ADA passed with overwhelming support from both parties. The final vote count for the Senate and the House combined was 468 in favor, 34 opposed, and 30 members not voting.

We must not only exercise our vote as individuals but also as a major voting bloc. This is something we have failed to do in the past, and not because we lack the will. What we lack is political power and the full support of the American public. A recent overwhelming major Rule change by the Civil Rights Division within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services finally passed guidelines mandating our right to equal healthcare and accessible medical equipment under Title II of the ADA (hospitals and facilities that receive government funding), but Title III providers (privately funded) still get a pass, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce still opposes such mandates for all privately owned businesses. What other minority group faces such blatant discrimination?

We need to act as a unified group to protect our rights. Our numbers are growing. Even the most conservative estimates say we now comprise between 40 and 50 million, almost identical to that of Black Americans. Some say our numbers are greater than this. It is incumbent upon on us to put pressure on our disability leaders such as the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, United Spinal Association, American Association of Disabled Persons and others to aggressively advocate for our rights and to form coalitions to gain power.

And that means each one of us needs to speak up.


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About the Author - Tim Gilmer

Tim Gilmer graduated from UCLA in the late-1960’s, added an M.A. from the Southern Oregon University in 1977, taught writing classes in Portland for 12 years, then embarked on a writing career. After becoming an Oregon Literary Fellow, he went on to join New Mobility magazine in 2000 and edited the magazine for 18 years.

Tim Gilmer

The opinions expressed in these blogs are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $10,000,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.