We Still Have a Dream…Competitive Employment for People with Disabilities

Next week, on Wednesday August 28th, those of us in the U.S. will mark an important and historic milestone. That day, America will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the largest public demonstration in American history, initially known as the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom". That day, August 28, 1963, 500,000 people gathered on the Washington National Mall to listen to Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. electrify the audience with his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.  The March on Washington serves as a key reference for significant progress on Civil Rights in America —" not only for African Americans, but also other groups, including people with disabilities".

It was events like the March on Washington that laid the foundation for other peaceful demonstrations to campaign for civil rights, including the rights of people with disabilities.  For example, on March 6, 1988, Gallaudet University students made history when they refused to accept the appointment of a president who was not a member of the deaf community. The initial appointment reflected a misconception that individuals who are deaf could not assume this leadership position.  In response, students banded together and stood up for a Deaf President Now. As a direct result of their actions, I. King Jordan became the first deaf president of Gallaudet and one of the most pivotal figures in the American disability civil rights movement.

Not only did Gallaudet students demand a "Deaf President NOW,” they also carried huge signs that read: "We Still Have a Dream."  So, on March 6, 1988, the week the world heard Gallaudet, nearly 25 years after Dr. King's Dream, deaf students, faculty, staff, and alumni still had a dream.

Next week, 50 solid years after Dr. King made his Dream public, Americans with disabilities and members of the global disability community still have a dream – a dream of competitive employment and full equal access in all aspects of life.  As we get ready to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech in August, and to observe the National Disability Employment Awareness Month in October, let us pause a moment to reflect on history, to consider how far we have come, the progress we have made, and the work that still needs to be done to make this dream a reality for people with disabilities around the world.

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