Thankful for us, the U.S.

Ben Trockman

Ben Trockman

During this time of great constitutional debate and discussion within our country, I’m reminded of my gratitude for the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. It reads:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Unlike people in many other countries in the world, citizens of the United States are granted the freedom to exercise free speech. Why is this particularly important to me, specifically in regard to disability inclusion? Let’s think back 100 years ago. My grandmother tells me the story of my great-grandfather Jimmy, who had polio and attended high school in the 1910s. Prior to Jimmy’s graduation, the principal of the school told my great-grandfather and his parents that they should “find their son a job in a back room where no one could see him.” This was the reality people with disabilities were facing in the early 20th century; a principal encouraging parents to “hide” their child from the world.

Now lets fast forward to the “Crawl on Capitol Hill,” prior to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. Hundreds of passionate disability advocates peacefully protested by abandoning their wheelchairs and walkers, and pulling their “disabled” bodies up the steps on Capitol Hill.

This vivid act of “free speech and/or peaceful assembly” led to unprecedented awareness of disability issues. The peaceful protest transformed the thinking of our country — and the leaders of our country — regarding people with disabilities. The ADA was signed months later in 1990 and has been a landmark piece of legislation for the disability community ever since.

Disable demonstrators crawl the Capitol steps. Photo: Action for Access, Tom Olin

Demonstrators with disabilities crawl the Capitol steps. Photo: Action for Access, Tom Olin

The purpose of this blog post is not to concentrate on one specific incident, but to look back, reflect and appreciate the rights that we have as United States citizens to express our passions, thoughts, ideas and concerns whether we express them by speaking, blogging, tweeting, publishing YouTube videos, or Facebook.

Without the ability to speak, assemble, protest and advocate, we may not have made it to a time where I (a 28-year-old quadriplegic) could have a full-time position at Old National Bank, one of the greatest employers in the tri-state, constantly speaking in the community, and feeling as though my opinions are always important. Without the First Amendment, I may not have had the opportunity to be employed. I may not have had the opportunity to advocate. I may not have had the opportunity to graduate.

Who knows?

One thing I do know is that we live in the greatest country in the world, where we have the opportunity to, in the words of James Dean, “dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.”

For that, I am grateful.


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