Increased civil rights protections advocated for at disability rights rally

Increased civil rights protections advocated for at disability rights rally

Increased civil rights protections advocated for at disability rights rally
July 29
13:27 2019

Disability rights advocates reminded Denton residents that the Americans with Disabilties Act was a first, but not a final step toward equality at the Courthouse on the Square July 27.

“We’ve got the ADA, that’s awesome, but we still have a long way to go,” said Miss Wheelchair Texas and UNT Graduate student Lauren Taylor at the rally to attendees.

There’s a difference between separately accessible and universally accessible, Taylor said.

“I don’t know if anyone’s opened a history book in a year or two, but separate has never been equal in my book,” she said.

During her speech, Taylor detailed difficulties in getting accommodations on the UNT campus.

“One of my first struggles as a student at UNT was I signed up for classes, but I don’t have a desk, because the accessible spots are just an empty spot on the ground,” she said. “Now what you have to do is go to the Office of Disability, you have to register with them, then you have to sign an agreement that says, ‘Oh, I’ve been to my classes already and know that there’s not already something in there that I can use,’ then you have to put in an accommodation request for whatever piece of equipment you may need.”

Students with disabilities should have the money they pay into UNT reinvested into accommodations, Taylor said.

“I’m a student just like everyone else, I sign up for my classes like everyone else, I should have a seat that I paid for in my classes without having to hunt it down,” she said.

Alejandrina Guzman shared her story about how doctors declared her dead when she stopped breathing during birth.

“In the delivery room with my parents were 29 other doctors and there was silence. You could hear a pin drop,” she said. “My parents were crying. I was their first child. And no one moved.  None of the doctors believed that I would survive. They gave me no medical help and there was one nurse in that delivery room who spoke Spanish. At the time my parents only spoke Spanish and because of that nurse, that nurse advocated for my parents and began yelling at the other doctors and demanding that they give me some kind of medical help.”

“I opened one eye and then another, and still the doctors said I would not survive more than an hour. An hour passed and they said I wouldn’t make it past a day. A day passed, I wouldn’t make it past a week, a month, a year,” Guzman said.

Disability rights activist Julie Ross spoke to the crowd about unacceptable conditions in mental health facilities.

Roland looks up at his owner, Denton resident and UNT graduate, Chris Allred during a disability rights rally at the Denton County Courthouse on the Square July 27, 2019 (NT Daily Photo by Jelani Gibson).

“We cannot claim progress for civil rights as our brothers and sisters are abused and neglected, and dying, locked away and segregated from society for the crime of being disabled,” she said. “Today, 29 years later, the ADA remains a promise unfulfilled, and it is on us, this generation of activists and allies to enforce, implement and expand the promise of full integration.”

“Until we are all free we cannot claim that we have won freedom for people with disabilities,” Ross said.

Attitudinal changes are the next barrier to securing more disability rights, said Randall Cox, Director of the UNT Psychology Clinic, in an interview after the event.

“The ADA was great in kind of opening up a door for us and letting us inside, but now it’s a matter of change in societal views,” he said. “It’s not necessarily intentional prejudice. Sometimes it’s just ignorance, lack of awareness and exposure.”

It’s critical that the disability community play a role in organizing its platforms for advocacy, said event organizer Val Vera.

“You don’t see disabled people putting together events like this. Denton is so well known for having events and activities, but how often are we the leaders of those events and activities, let alone how often are they accessible to us,” he said.

As people marched around the square they were surrounded by buildings that didn’t have accommodations for them, Vera said.

“We have physical access issues, you can go around the square and pick a handful of businesses that I can’t roll into, where I can’t go upstairs, bars that don’t have an elevator, we have a lot of infrastructure issues with sidewalks,” he said.

Breaking down attitudinal barriers is what makes securing accessibility possible, Vera said.

“As long as people have those attitudinal barriers and those stigmas, it’s hard to get the easy stuff, the wider doors, the ramps, the elevators,” he said. “When we bring awareness, when we bring education and when we’re visible like this, then people get it.”

Changing attitudes can change how the rest of the general population views those with disabilities, Vera said.

“Hopefully the people that were here, when they go, and they leave and they see a wheelchair user or they see a building that doesn’t have a ramp, they’ll think ‘Oh, that’s not right,’ and that’s what it’s all about,” he said.

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Jelani Gibson

Jelani Gibson

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1 Comment

  1. Russ
    Russ July 29, 15:30

    How about half the sidewalks in denton dead end to curb or fence i never new how far we were from helping people with disabilities until i was in a chair for 3 years this city has along way to go.

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