By Becki Forsell
Founder of YES! of America United, Inc.
Here we are in the fall of 2014 and its now 25 years after the ADA (American Disabilities Act) was established. Whistles are blowing, bells are ringing, and cheers are being shouted that we are all treated equally….but are we???? Many of our physical barriers have come down, but what about the emotional barriers to inclusion for our kids, our students in transition, our young adults, our employees, and our seniors? Has the dream of inclusion really secured its place in our society? This is a question that only you can answer, and only for yourself. It is different for each of us, but in a more general sense as a society, a community, a state, a country…..Where do we really stand?
I never thought much about this until 18 years ago when a car accident changed my life and left me with diabetes and blindness. I always felt I was part of the community until this happened and then things changed for me. My new challenges made me aware of all the physical barriers someone who is blind has to face. Then there were all the emotional barriers and burdens of losing your independence, your job, and the sudden new constant need to secure transportation. How was I going to be included???? Well, first I had to stop feeling sorry for myself and realize that my path, the one that God had put me on, had changed. I decided to make what it meant for me to have a disability was NOT a negative state, but a positive adventure. So, in 2002 I started a non profit called YES! of America United. Thru these 12 years we have worked to change disability awareness into a positive outreach and we are now working on a bill in draft in the Florida legislature: the Community Inclusion and Life Transition Act. This act will put inclusion for all individuals in the headlights for change in our state. Inclusion is a right, and yet as a person with a disability I also feel the need to earn and deserve this along with those who don’t have a disability. This right to full inclusion cannot just be handed to us on a silver platter, but sometimes must be worked for. With these rights come responsibilities. We need to educate our communities that we can work, volunteer, attend outings, go to movies and go out to eat just like our neighbors. It is not so important how we do it, but that we do it. To be included we need to give back and share our abilities. Inclusion according to the dictionary means: presence in a group, the addition of somebody or something to, or the presence of somebody or something in, a group or mixture. But presence is not enough. Inclusion, to be real, needs to be a full and welcoming acceptance, and becoming a natural part of the mixture. This is something that only you can work on for yourself. You must exercise your ability to share that you are a real person, and that God does not make junk. So give back, volunteer, work, and fully live within your village. As we wake everyday we cannot rely on the ADA to assure our acceptance…we must first realize that WE have to realize our dream, put it to work, and then become a fully accepted, (and expected), part of the mixture on a daily basis. What are the rewards of real inclusion? It is a part of our life that gives you love, friendship, self esteem and self empowerment as a member of our inclusive communities.
O.K., now again I hear the ADA celebration bells jingling, whistles blowing, hear the laughter and see the smiles. Participate, enjoy – but also be a dedicated, active part of it and your life will have even more positive adventures ahead. I am Becki with an I….involved and independent. Join me in my search for inclusion for all.
Becki Forsell Founded YES! of America United to positively change what it means to have a disability with programs and opportunities that enrich, educate, and empower people as they live, work, and play in their inclusive community. Please visit www.yesunited.org for more information about YES! of America United.