What does it mean to have a voice?

By Marion Trimble, SCIL Education & Outreach Coordinator

To a Center for Independent Living, having a voice means to be able to state your opinions, concerns and demands, and hopefully be heard. People with disabilities do not have to live silently; your voice allows you to have the choice between living independently and utilizing home and community-based programs or living in a nursing home or institution.

In early 1962, the disability voice was just a whisper and no one would listen then. The individuals that tried to speak out and demand their right to live independently had a reputation as troublemakers and those in control ignored the voices speaking out.

By the middle of 1960s, the disability voice could no longer remain silent. One voice belonged to Ed Roberts, now thought of as the “Father of Independent Living.” Roberts’ determination to attend the University of Berkeley in California, regardless of his significant disability, led the way for other individuals with disabilities to attend college and speak out for their rights.

Throughout the 1960s, the collective disability voice grew much louder and more difficult for society to ignore. In 1972, the first Independent Living Center opened in Berkeley and soon many others across the United States followed. Finally, the world began to listen to the voice shouting for freedom for people with disabilities.

The Independent Living Movement began with one voice and charged forward with many working through effective advocacy techniques. Letters were written, protests were attended and “sit in’s” were arranged. These voices created dramatic change across our nation for all people with disabilities. Today we have achieved many freedoms, but still have challenges ahead.

Approximately 54 million people with disabilities now live in the United States (US Census). To keep that in perspective, that number is equivalent to the population of the states of Florida and California combined. That is a lot of troublemakers. Are we always even-tempered, unbiased and politically correct? Do we cause power-mongers to hide in fear and do our bidding at the sound of our voice? Of course not. And thankfully not.

However, as self-advocates we must remain committed, be proud of our heritage and work to remove whatever stands in the way of the choice to live independently. We must continue to voice our concerns because our all-too-real human imperfections guarantee plenty to do in the years ahead.

Readers like you chose “Our Voice” as the new name for the Beacon newsletter. “Our Voice” speaks appropriately to the Independent Living Movement with its history of voices working together to fight for the freedoms and choices we have today. As a person with a disability, remember, you represent that voice whether you speak, write, sign or march for freedom. Your contribution to this voice represents all people with disabilities and helps protect civil rights, freedom of choice and the legacy Ed Roberts began. We need to carry on these freedoms for future generations.