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The Disability Rights Movement's Lasting Legacy

Editor's Note: *Image: John Rae holding a cane, and standing in front of an accessible (audible) automated banking machine.

Almost 30 years ago, I sort of "fell into" the disability rights movement, and after all these years, this work remains firmly fixed in my blood!

I didn't set out to become a Community organizer. I had planned to study law, but decided the practice of law and what was depicted on my favourite television show, Perry Mason, had little in common. Then I considered teaching, as I was already a history buff, but while in university, teaching jobs in general and jobs in teaching secondary school history in particular dried up.

In March, 1975, I attended a public meeting at the St. Lawrence Centre in Toronto, met mike Yale and my life changed dramatically. Within three and a half months, I was working for Blind Organization of Ontario with Self-Help Tactics in a downtown Toronto community Centre with Jo-Anne Yale, where Mike worked at the time. We were given a small office, a list of contacts and told to go and organize the group. We learned as we went along, learned in the trenches, on the job.

By the time I met Mike, I was already a confirmed political animal.

During my years in the movement, I have focused the bulk of my involvement on fighting for legislative and policy changes, the political side of the movement, and I've seen some noteworthy successes and picked up my share of scars along the way.

Thus, you would expect, as I look back over the past 30 years, that I would say that political change is the greatest achievement our movement has attained--and while significant advances in the area of legislative protection have taken place--our movement has always been much more than a political vehicle. It also provides a source of comradery, a place to develop skills, and a place to find personal support, which we all need at times in our lives.

For so many of us, participating in the disability rights movement gave us our first opportunity to participate directly in the formulation and carrying out of policies that affect our lives. For many of us, that was a very empowering experience.

The movement gave us the chance to develop new skills of writing, speaking, thinking on our feet, thinking outside of the box, and developing personal tenacity--skills and talents that are useful in all aspects of life. Many of us have used these new skills to go onto fulfilling careers.

I believe the personal growth and development in individuals who have participated in the struggles of our movement are its greatest and most lasting legacy. I am one who has benefited from my involvement, and I remain involved, partly to give back something, but also to continue to offer my energy and commitment in this important work.

If you have been sitting on the fence, trying to decide whether or not to jump in, now is a perfect time. There is a need for new blood and new ideas. There is room for you!

Come and join us.