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We cannot allow narrative against disabled people to become mainstream again

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During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump notably mocked a reporter for his physical disability. (Courtesy photo)
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For almost 40 years, the Independent Living Resource Center San Francisco has been a leader in the movement to improve access to public life for all people with disabilities. Our mission is to ensure that people with disabilities are full social and economic partners, both within their families and in a fully accessible community.

We serve everyone, from folks born with disabilities to those who acquire them as they age, with the perspective that disability is not a tragic, isolated human experience, but instead a normal, commonly experienced part of the human condition that should be accommodated and designed for. We do the work of holding out the shocking-to-some truth that people with disabilities are valuable, fully human members of our communities who deserve unobstructed access to all aspects of society.

For those of us in the Disability Rights Movement, the election of Donald Trump has thrown down a gauntlet, forcing us to face a growing assault on our very right to life in this country. It was especially devastating for our community to witness Trump’s rise to power after he enthusiastically mocked a respected reporter, Serge Kovaleski, for his physical disability. Kovaleski has a condition called arthrogryposis, which impairs his limbs, and Trump chose to publicly imitate him by flailing his arms and showing us all what he really thinks of those of us with disabled bodies: that we are laughable and not to be taken seriously.

We cannot allow that narrative to become mainstream again. Not after all we have accomplished since the beginning of the Independent Living Movement of the 1970s.

The outgoing Obama Administration has been marked by many advances for people with disabilities, and we are determined to keep the ground we have gained during the last eight years. This includes the creation and implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which helped to insure thousands of people with pre-existing conditions; the Department of Labor regulation that prohibited paying people with disabilities sub-minimum wages; and the federal initiative that updated section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act by setting a goal to hire one million people with disabilities.

We simply cannot afford to lose ground at this critical juncture in this nation’s history.

In addition to the disdain shown to the disability community by President-elect Trump, the anti-regulation rhetoric being reflected in his cabinet picks, and by Paul Ryan in Congress, is already painting people with disabilities, and the lawyers that represent us, as nothing more than vexatious dolts whose needs only serve to burden the lives of the able-bodied. In direct contrast to this falsehood is the reality of everyday folks, with disabled bodies, working to improve things like access to public transportation, the lives of immigrants with disabilities and the rights of parents with disabilities: just three of the important issues our community is working on.

As right-wing fascism rises around the globe at this dangerous moment in human history, it is more important than ever that we remain steadfast in our insistence upon respect for our humanity. We stand alongside Americans from a variety of backgrounds — immigrants, Muslims and those working to protect the planet for the next generation, to name a few — with renewed determination. We know 2017 will require the fight of our lives.

Unrelenting attacks of those on the margins of society became a calling card of the Trump presidential campaign strategy, and nothing short of a deeply intersectional movement of those targeted by those attacks, along with our allies, will be powerful enough to stop them.

Jessie Lorenz is executive director of the Independent Living Resource Center San Francisco.

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