Disabled in America--Liberty and Justice for Some?

In our country, we are taught as children that America was founded on "Liberty and justice for all" and that "All men are created equal".  In some cases that can't be more further from the truth.

Liberty and Justice for some?

A letter to John Rummel

Dear Mr. Rummel,

I read the last email you sent me before our meeting last week.  I liked the articles you sent me.  They were written very well.  I am hoping to write one of my own.  Below is a rough draft of one of my articles.

Liberty and Justice for some?

In our country, we are taught as children that America was founded on "Liberty and justice for all" and that "All men are created equal".

In some cases that can't be more further from the truth.  As we know, some people are born with disabilities.  They may be blind, or crippled, or have some mental challenges, but in any case, life is more difficult for them.  So in a way they are not created equal.  But in this country where people are supposed to be treated equally, the system seems to be set up for people who are disabled to fail, or to not get very far in life.  It is understandable people due to what ever handicaps they have cannot always do as well as others.  Some people with disabilities can go further in life just because they don't have a mental challenge.  That is not the fault of any government.  So I am not blaming anybody for that unfortunate fact of life.

But there should be some changes.  Since I am visually impaired, I have seen how the system works.  I have had to deal with it all my life.  I was born in to it so I know it very well.  I am hoping to write this article to educate people about the way our system can be slanted against those who maybe born with handicaps who must tackle the issues of education, accessibility to equipment that could better our lives; to explain how modern day politics effect the disabled community.

EDUCATION

Education is important to all people.  It can be the ticket to a better life.  At least we can all agree that everyone in this country and even in other parts of the world should have equal opportunity access to a quality education.  But in our schools if you are disabled, you may have to be evaluated for what classes you take, and what you need for them.  These evaluations are called IEPS which stands for Individual education program.  After you discus what should be in the plan, then the plan is supposed to be implemented in the following year.  These plans are reviewed atleast once a year so the teachers and other members of that child's support staff such as parents, or paraprofessionals can see if IEP goals are met, or if they need to revise the plan if the child is exceeding the goals.  The school is obligated to follow through on the conditions of this plan.  It is a government mandate that the contents of the IEP are met.  But that is not always the case.

Many times IEP goals are often overlooked.  This is an infraction on the students rights.  When the IEP is written, it is supposed to be carried out by the school.  It is against the law to do otherwise.  But in many cases IEP goals are declared, but don't  result in nothing tangible.  But many times it seems most people don't care.  The education system lets certain people slip through the cracks.  This is an infringement on the American value of equality.  We are all supposed to have equal opportunity, but in education this does not seem to be a reality.  The whole thing is just immoral.

The system seems to forget that the way it acts effects real people.  When I talk to a parent whose child had dyslexia, that person told me, "You need a lawyer just to get through an IEP".  It is bad when a parent feels that they need an attorney just to work with the school to plan their child's education.  That is not the America I was always taught about in my history class when I was in grade school.  If we are equal, then why can't people with special needs get equal access to schooling? This is a question that I have asked many times.  It is hard to get people to understand that just because I am visually impaired, does not mean that I can't do everything else the other kids can do.  Many times it seems no matter how many times you have told people that, it seems to fall on deaf ears.  But this is why we must work for people to get a fair deal when it comes to education.  We must work on reforming the school system to make this goal a reality.

Sometimes if you are disabled and you try to stand up for yourself, it seems like the education authorities try to shut you up.  I want to recount one of my experiences.  One time I was talking to a teacher about trying to learn braille music.  I have always wanted a music class for four years now.  I was talking to the teacher about how no one had ever taught me braille music code.  The teacher had tried to tell me that I should have gone to Braille Beats which is a music camp for the blind.  I had responded that the camp was a good resource, but that the camp only lasted a few weeks in the summer.  It did not help kids who wanted to work with music outside of camp during the school year.  What were people supposed to do about that.  It did not seem fair.

After an argument ensued, the teacher had told me that because of the budget cuts, that other teachers did not have time to teach other students music or too much else.  The teacher that I was talking to was a teacher that just taught the blind.  These teachers are called TCS or Teacher Consultants.  Because of the governor's cuts in Michigan, they had laid off a lot of teachers for the blind and visually impaired.  So this made it hard on all the other teachers in the school district.  I could understand her point of view, thanks to the governor, a lot of important educational resources were being attacked.  All the TCS have been swamped for a while now.  But the student should still be able to make their case.  When I still put up a fight with the TC, I said "I understand your point of view, but what about us?.  "What are we supposed to do if we have no one else to teach us?" The teacher replied, "I just don't want to talk to you about this right now."

This has happened with other people that I have tried to talk to..  They try to either use guilt trip, or just shut you up entirely.  I have been told that I could have had a worse disability and should just be grateful and just put things in to perspective.  I know that my position could be worse, but I should still have equal status with other students.  It is not fair to try and make a student feel ashamed just because he or she is asking for equitable treatment by the educational system.  Children with special needs should feel comfortable requesting what they believe they need.  No one should try to stamp out their right to speak their mind.  That would violate the students first amendment rights that the Constitution guarantees us.  That would mean that the education system is hypocritical when it comes to a students rights.  There goes the America that I learned about in my history books.

Equipment Accessibility

If you are handicapped, or know someone who is handicap, then you know that their are many times where a person needs some sort of device that helps make the world more accessible to them.  A person in a wheelchair may need a lift for their house to get up stairs.  A person who may not be able to move their hands may need a special tool to interface with a computer.  A blind person may need a computer program to make their computer talk.  The list goes on.  But as we all know nothing is free.  These devices cost a lot of money.  It is not easy for a family to afford the costs, unless they are well to do.  That can make life more difficult for people who need these contrivances.  That is not fair to them.

In a way, these people are not born with many personal freedoms, these freedoms must be bought.  But because of some people's difficult financial situations, it is not always easy to by these freedoms.  That puts the odds against people who are handicapped.  These people have to depend on these instruments to increase their quality of life.  The more they have, the better life is and vice versa.  But most people don't understand that.  They have not lived with a disability, so they cannot comprehend this difficult situation, unless they have been close to someone who is disabled.  

Now I would like to give you some examples of prices on equipment for the blind and visually impaired.

If you are blind or visually impaired, many times you may need a plethora of equipment to make life simpler.  This equipment could consist of screen readers for your computer, a book reader, or other similar equipment.  I shall name the devices most commonly used, and their prices.  If you want a braille note, which is a device that blind people use to take notes, serf the web or use for other purposes, that will cost you $6000, $7000 if you want the GPS option.  If you need a screen reader to read the information on your computer screen, a basic Jaws program which is a commonly used system will cost you $1500.  A Sara scanning device used to read print books costs $3000.  Now If I were to add up the prices for all this equipment including the braille note with the GPS, the price would come out to $11500.  This is just the price for common equipment just to get through a normal day in a blind persons life.  This is the price of all the equipment that I use just to get through a school day.

If you are in school, most of this equipment is bought by the school districts, but if you are not in school, you have to eat these costs yourself.  Perhaps you can get help through the state, but due to the budget cuts that each state is experiencing, that is not a guarantee.  People may wonder how the prices can be so high for equipment if people cannot afford  it.  Well there is a special condition called Low Incidence.  Since there are so few  blind people, and others with disabilities, the people who make this equipment don't sell to a wide market.  So they have the power under the law to charge however much they want for their technology.  In order to manufacture a braille note, it only takes a few hundred dollars at the most, but they can charge seven thousand dollars for it.  These corporations know that they have a monopoly on the assistive technology trade, and they have a small group of people to exploit.  So they take every advantage given to them, and the law says that this is ok.  This puts disabled people in a powerless position, especially if they are in difficult financial positions that leave them unable to by the equipment needed to make their lives better.

Modern Day Politics and its effect on the disabled Community

As we have seen in the world of politics today, there are a lot of cuts in government programs.  If you have a disability, this could spell trouble for your future.  Thanks to budget balancing, educational programs for special needs children have been gutted.  Funds for equipment have also been downsized.  The politics that are being played in government have real world consequences for those who are at a serious disadvantage.  

People must be made aware of what is currently happening to people with special needs.  In this section, we shall explore the full effects of bad politics on handicapped people in America.

First we must talk about special education.  Above I mentioned people called Paraprofessionals, these are people who help students in school with daily activities.  These activities could be transcribing work in to braille if the student is blind, or what ever the students special needs demand of them.  These people are an integral part of the special educational system.  They make the students school career possible.  I know, since I am visually impaired, my Para Professional transcribes my work in to braille.  Without her, I wouldn't be able to get anything done.  So it is imperative to know what all Paraprofessionals do.  But politicians won't even leave the Paraprofessionals alone.  Due to the budget cuts, Paraprofessionals are getting the pink slip.

The Republicans and some Democrats think that it is necessary to cut funding for education.  As I have said, this includes special education as well.  This means that for Paraprofessionals, their jobs are on the chopping block.  But this policy is a mistake.  This would mean that good experienced people will no longer be able to help the students who most desperately need it.  What people should also know is that Paraprofessionals have to take a test to prove that they are ready for the job.  These tests cost quite a bit of money.  But now that the experienced Para Professionals are losing their jobs, new people are being hired to take their place without actually taking the test.  This will cause more hardship on the students and they already have enough trouble.  How is that fair?

As we know certain kinds of equipment help out handicapped people.  Either if they are in school, or out in the real world.  But now that the budget cuts have arrived, school districts are not able to afford some of this equipment.  If students lack this technology, then they might fall behind in school.  How are they going to get a quality education if they don't have what they need? You also have to worry about what kinds of technology the school district deems worth buying.  In order for me to get the Sera reading device, Me and my dad had to save $3000 just to by it.  It set us back a bit, but it was worth the freedom of being able to read any kind of print book or magazine I want.  But if things keep going the way they are, then equipment for disabled people will keep getting harder and harder to get.
This is the case outside of school as well.  In fact it is even harder to acquire assistive technology..  

At least in school they try to pay for things you need although it is getting more difficult.  But in the real world, there is little help.  If you are lucky, maybe Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid might pay for some equipment.  Not even your healthcare provider pays for equipment.  Technologies for the blind should be payed for by the state, but they don't like to spend the money required, so a lot of people cannot always get what they need.  If the politicians have their way, then Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid which help pay for some of the equipment needed by the handicapped segment in this country will be cut.  This lessens the chances that disabled people will get what they truly need.

I believe all men are not created equal.  Some people are born handicapped.   But even though that is the case, we should live up to the promise of "liberty and justice for all".  Yet people with handicaps don't get a fair deal in America.  Not in education, getting the equipment they need, or even in the realm of politics.  This violates the principles that our great country was founded on.  As I set here writing this article I ask myself, what happened to the rosy picture that I was inculcated with when I was a child?


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  • highly usefull for me in India to how us democrcy treats disabled persons

    Posted by gn nagaraj, india, 11/07/2011 8:50am (6 years ago)

  • Thank you for this excellent blog.

    Posted by Terrie Albano, 10/20/2011 8:48am (6 years ago)

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