Poet and playwright Neil Marcus said: “Disability is not a brave struggle, or courage in the face of adversity. Disability is an art. It’s an ingenious way to live.”
When we support the concepts embodied by phrases such as “civil rights” and “independent living”, we are often defining them each in our own way. To me, living an ingenious life means fully embracing three principles of independent living. Those principles are autonomy, accessibility and advocacy.
Autonomy can be characterized as living life on your own terms. It is more than a mere geographical separation from oppression. Centuries ago, when the pilgrims abandoned the Old World, they did more than simply move from one patch of ground to another, they established a new standard, based upon their own values and ideals. Autonomy can be about giving yourself permission to have higher expectations. Whether you choose to live your ingenious life furthering the education of others by beating back ignorance, or focusing your energy on raising a family, you have the right to realize the same life, the good and the not so good, as anyone else.
This is living your life with dignity.
When most of us consider the meaning of independent living, what often comes to mind is accessibility. In my view, accessibility means more than wheelchair ramps and Braille dots. It is as much about attitude as it is about architecture. After all, what difference does it make to have access to an establishment, only to be ignored once we’re there? We may as well conduct our business shouting from the sidewalk.
True accessibility is more than a mandate, it’s a mind set.
Finally, living an ingenious life includes advocacy. Whether you belong to a service agency or organization, are launching grass-roots efforts to raise awareness or you actively participate in a political action committee, become part of the process to ensure your rights are protected. To whom much is given, much is required. Raise your voice on your own behalf, or lend your voice to those who have no voice of their own. Advocacy must include education. We must do more than lament the darkness, as the old proverb goes, we must light a candle.
These three principles of civil rights and independent living are like the legs of a stool. Remove one and the seat tips over.
We must continue to be vigilant in our watch over the foundation laid by those who came before us. Peter Drucker is credited with suggesting that the best way to predict the future is to create it.
Use your own circumstances artfully, to realize autonomy, reach for greater accessibility, and raise awareness through advocacy. Live your ingenious life.
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