Los Angeles, CA, July 3 – Tomorrow is Independence Day in the United States. While its primary purpose is to demarcate 246 years since the day we formally declared our independence from Great Britain, it has come to be a celebration of broader Independence. While it is critically important to remember that the liberties in the Declaration of Independence were at the time only offered to wealthy white men, today I ask you to think about a different complexity within that narrative.
There is a perspective within American culture that equates independence with the absence of support. We are taught that there is something quintessentially American about “pulling oneself up from one’s bootstraps.” And yet, the declaration of the 13 colonies that they were independent from Great Britain certainly did not indicate a decision to navigate the world alone. Our alliance with France was critical in allowing the Revolution to succeed, and as a nascent country, we had shifting dependencies on multiple European powers, including Great Britain.
RespectAbility, and the disability community more generally, does not define independence as navigating the world without support. The quintessential focus of the independent living movement is instead being able to determine our own destiny, and to live lives that we want.
I am a spastic quadriplegic who uses a wheelchair. For me to shower, dress, eat, use the restroom, and yes, be able to work, I require the assistance of another human being. What’s more, this assistance is paid for by public dollars. And yet, I am independent precisely because these services allow me to direct the course of my own life, to make choices, and to chart a path. I am independent because the people that assist me may be paid for by the government, but they are helping me to effectuate my will.
This is the independence that RespectAbility encourages everyone to think about on this Independence Day. Let us set up the systems and provide the supports so that everyone, regardless of disability, can chart the course of their lives. Let us make sure that jobs and transportation are accessible so people with disabilities have the freedom to share their talents with the world, and the independence to make the same choices that are available to everyone else. Let us make sure that the health care and support systems exist so people with disabilities can live independently, where they choose, and with whom they choose. No person should be forced to live in poverty or forgo the joys and benefits of marriage just to make sure we have the means to stay alive.
No one maintains their independence alone. Whether you come from generational wealth or relied on the public education system and government benefits to enable you to work, earn money, and eat, the ability to independently navigate your own life comes in part because of your dependence on something that was provided by someone else.
So, this Independence Day, I respectfully ask you to pay it forward. Advocate for someone else to get the supports they need, whether educational or healthcare, to experience full independence. Perhaps also think about supporting RespectAbility, or another organization doing this important work. Let’s look forward to an Independence Day where every person with and without disabilities is living a truly independent life, supported as they need and supporting others as they can. Only then can we truly “Let Freedom Ring.”