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Disabled in America

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The term disability does not mean inability.

When one hears the word "disabled," what thoughts come to mind? Handicapped, crippled, retarded, or a waste of government funds.

The single greatest ideological threat to the disabled community is the perception that they are not of value to society. People living with disabilities are fighting an insurmountable battle to etch a place for themselves, within a society that perceives them as inferior. Since the birth of the Disabilities Rights Movements, activists have been working to eliminate this correlation between disability and inferiority. This movement forced the U.S. government to eliminate the social, educational, and employment exclusion of the disabled citizenry.

The United States has made tremendous strides in transforming the lives of people with disabilities. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that children living with disabilities are granted equal access to education, under federal law. Federal programs that fund the special education of disabled students costs taxpayers approximately $74 billion a year.

The population of people identifying themselves as disabled continues to grow. The United Nations estimates that over 650 million people are living with disabilities, roughly 10 percent of the world's population. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention asserts that 47.5 million Americans report having a disability, nearly 21.8 percent of the United States population.

As the number of disabled Americans steadily increases, these individuals continue to battle institutionalized barriers to educational success. Students living with disabilities represent a disproportionate amount of high school dropouts, less than 36.4 percent of these students graduate with a high school diploma or certificate. As a result, an even smaller number of disabled students proceed to attend college and many remain unemployed.

These statistics are a larger representation of ideologies that stigmatize disabled as a drain of governmental resources. This form of social discrimination is defined as ablelism -- the institutionalized oppression of persons with disabilities. Ableism creates a system of privilege for those without physical or mental limitations.

Advocates are continuing to wage a war against the socioeconomic imbalances disabled Americans endure. One of the leaders at the forefront of the resurging Disabilities Rights Movement is White House Director Priority Placement, Rebecca Cokely. According to Cokley:

"Equal employment means to me going beyond a functional shift and resulting in a philosophical shift in the expectations of young people with disabilities so that in elementary school, when students present what they want to be when they grow up, no one will say that a kid with a disability cannot be an astrophysicist, a lawyer, a chef, or whatever they may want to be."

Subsequently, ablelism is a systematic cycle perpetuated by lowered expectations for disabled people. The immediate image that comes to mind when one examines disability is helpless. In spite of these challenges, the disabled community remains a hidden army of people fighting to dismantle this cycle of prejudice.

One of the soldiers on the frontline of the battle to end social discrimination against disabled people is University of Maryland Women's Studies doctoral candidate, Angel Miles. Miles claims, "My liberation is dependent on the eradication of injustice." As a disabled woman, Miles has dealt with many obstacles and forms of discrimination due to her status as a wheelchair user. The injustice Miles is working to destroy will pave the way for generations of disabled students in the future.

Disabilities rights advocates continue to struggle for inclusion, tolerance and acceptance.

Though the isolation of generations past in which disabled students were excluded from mainstream classrooms is non-existent; intolerance towards disabled students persists. Within the classroom, many disabled students battle inequities in education and abuse from caregivers. Outside of the classroom, disabled students are fighting for acceptance. We must refute the notion that students with disabilities are incapable of being educated or successful. The belief that disabled people are a liabilities is a threat to the vitality of not solely disabled people, but our society as a whole.

Additionally, the key to resolving the issue of equal education and employment disparities for those with disabilities is through inclusion and acceptance. Kyle Khachadurian, a college junior at Queens College at the City University of New York, is among the thousands of American college students living with a disability. Khachadurian believes, "The sooner people realize that people with disabilities actually exist and aren't some rare occurrence in the world, the better off everyone will be."

The stories of injustice disabled Americans bear have remained silent struggle for decades. Nonetheless, we are struggling to create justice within a realm of injustice. This problem must be resolved through acceptance. The cycle of injustice will be brought to a tragic end if acceptance for disabled Americans thrives as opposed to furthered exclusion. The silence must end now.