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Disability is a Natural Characteristic of Life*

It is another variable like height, weight, hair color, eye color. It is just another demographic characteristic. Some people are born with it, some people acquire it through accident, illness or trauma and some people age into it. If we live long enough we are all going to join the club.

In fact, a former Senator had a wonderful statement which is, "Disability is the only minority that maintains open enrollment 24 hours a day 365 days a year." People are joining the club, if you will, and the numbers are mushrooming, every minute of the day, through birth, through accident, through injury or through the aging process.

If you look at the aging process, this wonderful machine called the human body starts to wear out its parts and we don't have all the parts yet like the auto supply store where you go down and buy new things. We have hip replacements, we have knee replacements, we have done marvelous work around cataracts, we can do a lot now around hearing impairment. We can do it with technology, but, the actual body parts start breaking down. For some people the brain cells start breaking down. Whether you call that senility or Alzheimer's we don't understand it all, but, this thing we call disability, this characteristic of life, is part of everybody.

When we do our legislative advocacy we're not doing it as a special interest group. We are the Paul Reveres. We are leading the way because we have already experienced what everybody else has a high probability of experiencing. We're not being selfish. We are doing some good for the greater society by pursuing an agenda that will make life better for everybody when their hour or moment of truth arrives.

Disability is a characteristic of life; it could be your spouse, it could be your child coming home from school getting hit by a car, you drowning, it could be the birth of your next child, your grandchild, your niece or nephew. We are all vulnerable and nobody's got a free ride ticket that says I'm going to live to be 95 years old and neither I nor anybody connected to me is going to experience disability. In fact, anybody today under age 65, the odds are probably 100 to 1 in their favor that they or an immediate family member, before they die, will experience significant disability and probably long term disability.

We're not just here for ourselves or for a protected class of people who don't see well or people who have psychiatric disabilities or people that have cognitive disabilities or people who use wheelchairs or however you see us. We are here trying to do a greater good for you and your family and an awful lot of people.

*Taken from a speech regarding disability advocacy given by Alan Bergman, October 1998. Bergman is a disability rights advocate and specialist on Medicaid and long- term services for United Cerebral Palsy, based in Washington, DC.

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Last Updated: 3-2-2006

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Please note this information is provided a archival information from the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Wheeled Mobility from 1993 to 2002.