A Paradigm Shift is defined as a change in the way of thinking, a metamorphism, a transformation, a revolution in thought. At different times in America, a paradigm shift has occurred, such as women entering the workforce and African Americans moving from an environment of segregation to holding the highest office in the land…the President of the United States.
Americans with disabilities need a paradigm shift now! For too long, we have been viewed as unable to achieve independence and therefore, seen as incapable of a fulfilling career. We are pitied. We are seen as inferior. We are marginalized. That must change today!
How do we get the world to change? We can’t and we won’t. We must be the change. We must be part of a paradigm shift. We must stop waiting for someone to save us, to help us, or to find us employment. That will not happen; if it does, it will be rare.
The first and most important step is to believe in yourself! You must stop “buying in” to those saying you cannot make it, that you cannot do it on your own, or that you will not succeed. Yes you CAN! You CAN and you WILL if you change the way you think about yourself.
The next step is to become independent. You CAN move out on your own. You CAN relocate for a job opportunity or get married – you CAN. You CAN arrange your own transportation and get to work every day on time – you CAN. Some people with disabilities have never stayed overnight at a hotel or gone on vacation alone. You CAN do it.
Reject pity. Do not ever, ever, accept being pitied. Pity means you are inferior or weak. Pity is like racism; both lead to unemployment. You want to be treated as a person, the way any other person would want to be treated. We don’t need pity – we need paychecks.
Do not be ashamed of having a disability. I have epilepsy and I assure you I am not ashamed! Until you stop being ashamed of your disability, you will never be able to believe in yourself, be independent, or reject being pitied.
Do not wait for anyone to “save you” or come to you with a great job opportunity. It will not happen. The great Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us, when he wrote from Birmingham Prison, why we cannot wait to be saved by others. “For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait'. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never’”.
This applies to us, people in the disability community. We cannot wait for anyone to save us from poverty. How many times have people promised me that at some time they would help me find work for people with disabilities? They would say, “Joyce, just wait, we are going to hire people with disabilities in the future.” That ‘future’ never happens.
It is time for a paradigm shift in the disability community. It is time for us to realize as Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” We CAN do it! We have pride!
Remember the words of the great Justin Dart Jr.—“We need a revolution of empowerment!”