By Mary Ann Grignon
I have been an advocate for many years and will continue to advocate until I am unable to do so. I have spent a lot of time considering what my life would be like if there weren’t dedicated, strong, and persistent advocates before me – in fact, those from many years before my time.
Below is the text of one of the very first speeches I ever gave as an advocate for the council of the blind, which I believe most aptly explains the reason for the challenge.
Real and meaningful change doesn’t happen without lots of people working very hard advocating for change, and it doesn’t happen overnight.
Prior to World War 1, people with disabilities were marginalized, shunned as cursed, treated like freaks, sterilized, and committed to asylums
It wasn’t until the end of World War 1 that the government began to take the rights of persons with disabilities seriously. From there, it would take more than 50 years, including violent pro-disability riots in the 1930s until the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 would be passed. It was another 17 years during which the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was nearly overturned by President Reagan before the ADA would be signed by President Bush in 1990. The struggle didn’t end there. Instead, we would be challenged by 20 years of misinterpretation and misapplication of the law before it would be amended.
Regarding service animals, The struggle to regulate the training of service animals began after World War 1, and it took 30 years, the voices of many blinded veterans, and many charitable organizations on two continents, and then it took 40 more years before the Air Carrier Access Act of 1986 and the Fair Housing Act of 1988 would be passed to insure the rights of service animals and those they serve.
It seems that the wheels of Congress have always moved slowly. It took 65 years from the time that Louis Braille unveiled his alphabet in 1824 until Congress voted in favor of funds to produce embossed Braille books for the blind in 1889.
Okay then, how many of you have heard this phrase: “By public law 89-522?”
If you read talking books, then you have heard that phrase at the conclusion of each and every book you’ve ever read. The question is, did you know that it took over 35 years from the time that Congress created library services until 89-522 was signed, providing free reading material for the physically handicapped?
Of most recent noteworthiness, between the conceptualization of audio description in 1974 and our current legislation, there are 36 years of advocacy, including the 2000 FCC rules mandating audio description for television, rules which were then overturned by the courts in 2002, prompting ACB’s long fight thereafter for the law we now know as the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. This law was signed by President Obama in 2010.
But advocacy is not just marching on Washington, testifying before Congress, or launching international campaigns. It is mainly comprised of many people doing many small incremental actions over many years. And the Get In The Game Challenge was designed to get you to think about advocacy as a cumulative group of actions, each of which is not hard or scary, but all of which add up to real societal and personal changes.
While just over 30 percent of FCB chapters and affiliates participated in this year's challenge, of the 8 entities that participated, most did all 15 challenges. Participation ranged from 12.7 percent to 72.9 percent. The three top chapters were the Southwest Florida Council of the Blind, the Greater Orlando Council of the Blind, and the Jacksonville Council of the Blind. A special mention should go to the Miami Beach Council of the Blind, which, while not making the top 3, showed tremendous enthusiasm and expressed a newfound understanding of and appreciation for advocacy – exactly the kind of breakthrough and encouragement the challenge was designed to elicit.
I have presented you with a look into the past and a glimpse into today's FCB so that you might decide where you’d like to stand in the future. Will you be a malcontented, complaining individual, or will you be an enlightened advocate? Will you let others fight the fight, or will you stand with your peers and colleagues to fight for your rights? Finally, will you be the one to look back and wonder how it all happened, or will you be someone who says, “I helped!”?
There is much to be done, and each of us can help in the doing.