Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Incredible Transition of the Movement

School children today may wonder: why did the White South make there be the four different restrooms, one for each combination of people? Well, it did make four "water closets" available, two apiece for each sex, which admittedly allowed for somewhat easier restroom availability. But it also undermined the dignity of the American Deep South, which was swiftly moving from the lack of fair human rights to the promotion of greater civil rights, and eventually to manifesting independent living rights. After all, the involved country was America, and being a democracy, it couldn't long maintain such hostile acts of racial segregation - or discrimination against the physically disabled, challenged, or handicapped.

You could say that America from the 1940s through the 1980s were a time of incredible transition when it came to the full legal rights of American citizens, which included a change of focus from the racially oriented Civil Rights Movement to the ability oriented Independent Living Movement. As differing ethnic minorities received their full legal and human rights, the focus began to change when it came to what was considered to be politically expedient for different types of people.

For one thing, in the 1960s, changing racially segregated public restrooms back to the usual men's and women's ones was considered to be politically important, and this led to the changes in restroom stalls in the 1980s that encompassed wheelchair accessibility. This sort of thing, along with the Deep South's municipal bus boycotts, such as the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott led by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was to enable "colored" people to get away from unnecessary referencing to skin color, and it also led to the placing of proper wheelchair lifts onto buses for the sake of the physically disabled, to enable them to finally ride the city buses. Nowadays, you can ride in your electric wheelchair in a special slot on the bus, or transfer out of your manual wheelchair and into a seat.

Uniting the public restrooms enabled people to continue their normal way of life, unhampered by racism or any presumed "need" for such segregated facilities. Plus, there was the further needed transition of the municipal city buses, where black people had been forced to sit in the far backs of the buses. As with the public restrooms, there was no need for such isolation, which at the time was being corrected by the acting Civil Rights Movement, headed by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., so that people could use most public facilities without suffering from further racial segregation. And as stated, this led to the further revamping of public facilities to make them wheelchair and disabled accessible, including full accessibility for the blind, the deaf, the elderly, the mentally challenged, and other such needed transitions.

Earlier work by the Civil Rights Movement had clearly led to these other needed transitions being made, several years later. Causing the first series of changes had obviously led to the next series of changes. The Movement had tackled universal public transportation and public access to facilities, which were also in a state of becoming more available in general as public transportation and facilities increased in number and diversity markedly over time, broadening the scope of the American service horizon.

It was thus seen that public transportation via racial segregation wasn't required in America, and neither were racially segregated public restrooms. However, years later in the 1980s, it turned out that the people who actually needed any such "specialty" restrooms were the physically disabled. They needed special, more copious interior stalls with grab bars within them, not unduly physically segregated restrooms. The needed incredible transition was from civil rights for different racial groups to independent living rights for the disabled and the physically challenged.

It wasn't altogether that "incredible" - when you think about it. The needed transition was for some of the restroom stalls to become wider - affording more ease and room for less ungainly wheelchair transfers. The disabled needed more room, sturdy grab bars to help them transfer, and large signs outside on the doors with the blue and white wheelchair access logos - and also Braille worded signs, such as those in front of elevators and outside rooms - for the sake of blind people as well.

And there only needed to be one "handicapped" larger stall available per restroom, not ability segregated restrooms. Although this had been proposed, it was not brought into practice - as the racial segregation that had occurred years before caused reconsideration of such segregation per ability, as well as it simply not being needed for public use of these facilities. The degree of influence of one movement upon the other is arguable, but the similarities between the two movements were more than coincidental, as both clearly involved basic legal and civil human rights.

It had actually been the paramount issues of universal wheelchair access and the universal integration of disabled access into buildings, public accommodations and housing which constituted the needed "incredible transition" from one movement to the other, as there had never been any verifiable need for racial segregation of public facilities and transportation. Instead, wheelchair and disabled access came to the forefront as issues that have become important worldwide since the 1980s, as verifiable human needs that required redress, not only as social issues that involved bigotry and discrimination, but physical access to property as well.

As a nurse aide for the disabled, I used to help people transfer from their wheelchairs to the toilets and back in public restrooms. It was part of my job. Due to moderate learning disabilities, my other everyday work skills tend to be poor. I can't really handle waitressing, for example. But I've done great at writing and editing professionally for a career, and helping people in wheelchairs get through daily obstacles has been easy for me.

Wheelchair riding "shut ins" used to mostly stay home. They had nowhere they could go having wide enough doorways, smooth ramps into buildings or across roadways, prominent signs of universal wheelchair use, or major areas flat enough for wheelchair access. Even elevators took awhile to be added to most public buildings. For example, it took several decades for America's universities to become wheelchair accessible, not to mention other buildings such as hotels, hospitals, restaurants, etc.Added over many years, interior elevators within buildings greatly helped. Nowadays, you also see flat, wide wheelchair ramps everywhere. This makes life easier for all kinds of people, including those using crutches, canes, walkers, baby strollers and bicycles. It's really quite wonderful.

Exterior concrete stairways were once a large part of what kept people out of many buildings, rendering them unable to go in. The 1970s were not a "Stairway to Heaven" for most people with physical disabilities, and exterior stairways into buildings were a major hassle. But we're learning, and now we have long exterior tiered concrete ramps laid out in a "switchback" manner, enabling disabled entry to most public buildings. Nowadays you can go to college and attend all your classes, thanks to disabled access such as ramps, elevators and note takers for the blind.

Meanwhile, "colored" and "white" colleges have also been opening their doors to each other, as the USA and the free world begins a phase of politics which we're still entering, one where you might get to go exactly where you please, and do whatever you want to do - within reason. But the days of yore, where you couldn't always do so, were intriguing in their own way, although I'm glad those days are almost entirely gone.

Weirdly enough, there were a few good events, fantastical as it may seem, that happened under the loosening ties of racial segregation. For example, there were great "colored" ball teams, and also some well run and hospitably owned "colored" managed hotels and motels. They hired black workers, which occasionally involved better work situations than similar white run positions. This was unfortunate, as black people weren't allowed to stay in or work at the white people hotels and motels.Having to contemplate the meanings of the word "colored" and "black" was also involved as a social issue for certain famous such people, who promoted civil rights as their primary political cause. Colorful and lively is what they were often forced to become, in order to help their kind of people become more welcome in American society as they sojourned away from black and white racial segregation. The arts, music and theater gained from the addition of remarkable talent from these hallmarks of American and world society, who felt they had to prove themselves in a world which was capable of killing, hampering or incarcerating people solely due to their skin color not being "white."

Racial segregation was definitely the road to extreme enforced injustice as the only alternative for not granting people their full civil, legal and human rights, so these culturally important people, Americans - such as Malcolm X and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., among many others - wanted to make sure their attainments were not in vain, and that they taught people racial equality was real and not merely a "dream." They wanted to make this "incredible transition" happen, which came to pass also through the disability rights movement and wheelchair accessibility, and to change the basically "white" people image of overall American society.

Internment, concentration - and finally death - camps are the strongest and most likely images I come up with when I reflect on how things would have ended up under continuing American racial segregation in the Deep South. Curfews, separate areas of town to live in, and enforced places to go at restaurants, restrooms and theaters imply the kind of incarceration that leads to actual internment, concentration and even death camps, such as the huge ones instituted by the Nazis, the Chinese and the Russians.

What ridiculous, gigantic monstrosities have gone worldwide since the "shackles" of such depravity were rooted in the originally enforced life on our Native American "Indian" reservations? Hitler blamed the Nazi concentration camps on those isolate places, although supposedly they were also styled after Joseph Stalin's similar Russian camps in the Ukraine and Siberia. Horrifyingly, there seems now to be a major internment camp, possibly for the mentally disabled, being built - or which is now completed - in America's own State of Alaska, and there are similar internment camps in outlying areas of the United States as well. The Hurricane Katrina victims have been placed into similar camps, which brings up newer issues of racial segregation again - as many of that awful hurricane's victims were once black or colored residents of New Orleans, Louisiana - the USA.

Overt racial cleansing has swelled out from our country and others in many a secretively torturous way. And it has not been so long since black people here in America were forced to sit in the back of city buses. Recently, a white school bus driver tried to illegally force black children to once again sit in the backs of school buses. Fortunately, he was caught and stopped before this tactic became widespread. But many decades ago, it took the Civil Rights Movement to get black people out of the backs of those buses, where they were being forced to sit against their will, giving up their chosen seats to white people.

Nobody likes to sit in the back of the bus forever. It was one of the better strategic moves in American history to end that. Some folks want to "keep on trucking" and serve humanity in similar ways, working jobs that involve helping others. But many of these great careers require major university degrees, which as you know can be difficult to pay for nowadays. Wouldn't it be wonderful to get such a job with only a high school diploma?

Say, would you like a job that involves no prior experience? It doesn't pay too well, maybe enough to get by. It's called being a "personal care attendant" for the disabled, and I've been one for black, brown and white people. You don't have to be a trained nurse, and open positions are listed under Home Health Care in the newspapers. If you take this job, which often only involves part time work, you may also experience the salutary effect of enjoying working for the civil rights of people with disabilities. You may also get free meals and a roof over your head by working this job. But without the proper implementation of universal wheelchair access, you won't be able to get out much and enjoy life to the fullest.

Therefore, I want to help get the word out with this article about municipal buses and other such needed vehicles being outfitted with reasonably made wheelchair lifts. This involves various programs and accessibility issues - happening all over the modern world. Those white, black and brown people (upholding their full legal and civil rights - regardless of skin color or other personal characteristics) in manual and electric wheelchairs, and other such vehicles of personal conveyance such as scooters and gurneys, need to be able to get on buses and other public transportation, like trains, boats and ships, and airplanes, not to mention their also needing to be able to freely access wheelchair access compliant parking spaces, hotel rooms, apartments, houses, other buildings, restrooms, etc.

Basically, total wheelchair access is the modern goal of the Movement nowadays, now that the transition has been made from civil rights to disability rights. Rather than ending civil rights, it simply expands them. Hopefully, someday wheelchair access will be made part of the standard legal building codes of houses everywhere on the face of the planet. And nearly everywhere you park now, you see the sign for wheelchair access in many parking spaces, plus wheelchair ramps available on nearly every street corner and around the front access of all public buildings. Sooner or later, if we live long enough we will all be physically disabled, no matter our skin color or other characteristics, due to old age and its subsequent debilitation. Thus we will all need the incredible transition from the Civil Rights Movement to the Independent Living Movement, with both movements covering as much as possible of the full scope of our American and worldwide legal, civil and human rights - no matter whom we might ever actually be, or finally ever eventually become.

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