Can Parallels Be Drawn Between LGBTQ Marriage Equality and the Disability Inclusion Movement?

We still associate disability with “broken” and continue to try to “fix” people with disabilities; Removing the Stumbling Block
Since the news broke about the SCOTUS ruling that all states must legally recognize same-sex marriages, I have found myself feeling wonderfully optimistic. And, of course, as I usually do, I also find myself seeking parallels between this historic moment and the disability inclusion movement.  

There has been a steadily growing tide of momentum over the past two years in the world of disability inclusion, with significant progress in the last five. In fact, in presentations on the topic of inclusion, I taken to saying that the disability inclusion movement is where the LGBTQ movement was about five to eight years ago.

And I believe that.

But when I went looking to draw specific parallels between this ruling and what it might mean for individuals with disabilities, I found myself struggling to find a concrete link. In other words, I can’t say that marriage equality for the LGBTQ community is just like “X” in the disability community. And I think there are more than a few reasons why.

First, I think that the lack of a universal definition of inclusion is itself a genuine barrier. Without it, each state, each school district, each organization interprets for itself what it means to be inclusive and/or offer a least restrictive environment and shapes its practice accordingly. 

Next, as much as there are plenty of committed leaders, advocates, self-advocates and supporters, there doesn’t seem to be quite the same ability to organize and mobilize this movement, possibly because there may not yet be an “X” for everyone to rally behind. Or, quite possibly, there are so many issues to conquer, making overall progress becomes diffuse.

And of course there are the deeper issues of respect and value of humanity at play here. Even as society shifts to recognize and appreciate diversity in some ways, we still associate disability with “broken” and continue to try to “fix” people with disabilities to enable them to conform to accepted notions of normalcy.

And so I took my thoughts to social media and quickly sparked a meaningful dialogue among colleagues. I quickly realized that this is a conversation that needs many more voices!

Here was my post: “For a few months now, when speaking to groups about disability inclusion, I have made reference to the idea that the disability inclusion movement has come a long way recently, and seems to be about where the LGBTQ movement was 5-8 or years ago. With the SCOTUS ruling on marriage equality, I find myself wanting to write about the parallels, but could really use some concrete notion or research to anchor my thoughts. What does everyone think? Does it feel like this ruling can also be a win for disability inclusion? Or is there really nothing similar to hang our hats on here?”

And some insight from colleagues:

Renee Laporte: Both [movements] are historically marginalized groups who experience discrimination and hate crimes. The LGBTQ movement is gaining such great ground because they have a HUGE support base, allies and fellow LGBTQ's who work hard at a local community level to educate the masses and gain acceptance. We in the disability community are also taking those steps but when a lot of PWD rely on others for their voice it, in my opinion, makes it harder for them to be heard.”

Torrie Dunlap, CEO of Kids Included Together: “I think the thing the LGBTQIA community has done is rally around ONE message and initiative- marriage equality. There are obviously lots of other ways they are discriminated against, but they chose to focus on one, and get everyone behind it, unifying their message, storytelling, etc. And it took a long time, but ultimately was so effective! What a wonderful win! They can now build on this success to ultimately change public attitudes and opinions. I have often thought that I wish that the disability inclusion community could have something as easy to communicate as marriage equality (or perhaps there is and it hasn't been tried?)”

Brenda Giourmetakis: “If we want to make a difference, we have to get VERY vocal and VERY in the media. The only way we will affect change is by speaking up…And the fact that society does NOT value folks with identified disabilities and is always trying to FIX people instead of working with them.”

Additional food for thought from Disability Thinking: What’s The Next Big Victory for the Disability Community? 

Join the conversation. Comment here or on Facebook. Tweet with the hashtag #BetterTogether. Really. Your voice matters.  

I don’t have the answers. But I know that nothing changes if we don’t start the conversations.

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