Martin Luther King once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” To act or speak is to be a subject, while objects are those that are acted upon.
In too many cases, people with disabilities have been silenced and objectified. They are silenced by isolation, they are silenced by limited access to power, they are silenced when others do not seek to understand their communication and they are silenced when they are infantilized or presumed to have nothing of value to say.
Being silent leads to disenfranchisement, and it can lead to exploitation and abuse. People with disabilities cannot afford to be silent.
In recognition of this need, a group of individuals with disabilities has started meeting in Durango to give voice to the things that matter to people with disabilities. Often, these are things that matter to many residents of the Four Corners: affordable housing, transportation, the rising cost of living. But other important issues are unique to people with disabilities, such as accessibility (physical and social) and freedom from discrimination.
Thus, one of the first acts of this group has been to organize a community forum specifically on issues of interest to the disability community. The Disability Issues Forum will be moderated by Jean Aaro of the La Plata County League of Women Voters. Representatives from the city of Durango, La Plata County and the Durango Chamber of Commerce have graciously accepted the invitation to attend and answer questions about disability-related issues.
The forum will be held from 3 to 4 p.m. Jan. 23 at the Cornerstone Building in Durango (3473 Main Ave., unit 20). After the forum, Southwest Center for Independence will host an open house to honor Ed Roberts, one the first disability rights activists in the United States and the father of the independent living movement.
Anyone who has a disability, cares about people with disabilities or wants to know more about issues that impact people with disabilities is encouraged to participate in the forum.
The hope is that this Disabilities Issues Forum will be just the beginning of a journey to more disability-related activism. SWCI is teaming up with Community Connections, the Arc of Southwest Colorado, Conservation Legacy and individuals with disabilities to develop a series of workshops and activities focused on activism and advocacy.
Advocacy is something we should all understand. Everyone needs to know our representatives at local, state and federal levels and understand what decisions those people make. We should all know how to make our voices heard and when different actions (letters or calls to representatives, letters to the editor, protests) are appropriate. When we know how to stand up for ourselves and each other, we will be able to make this world a better place.
Margaret Mead may have said it best, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Tara Kiene is president/CEO of Community Connections, Inc.