DON’T SEGREGATE DISABLED
I was troubled by the article by Amanda Robert “New nonprofit plans fitness center for the disabled.” This concept flies in the face of the integration people with disabilities have fought for for generations, and perpetuates a stereotype we have battled all our lives.
Going back to well before the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law, many of us with disabilities were strongly advocating that separate is not equal for us any more than for other minorities. We did not want separate schools, separate housing, separate places of employment, or separate anything. People with disabilities are part of the fabric of our communities, and we should be allowed to blend in as all others do. We shop at the same stores, eat at the same restaurants, drink at the same bars, pray at the same churches, and pay the same taxes as our non-disabled neighbors. Why should we not work out at the same fitness centers?
Springfield has a strong, active disability advocacy community that dates back many years. Springfield had accessible buses before the ADA mandated it, because of disability advocates; there are restaurants and businesses that have become accessible because of advocates; and there are changes in more areas of public life than can be listed because advocates have educated and worked with the community to bring about the full inclusion we all seek. Has the Chrysalis Independence Foundation worked with any of these experienced leaders to address the fitness center issue? Have they explored a possible partnership with fitness centers to work on expanding their accessibility? Before another nonprofit was established with the mission of building a segregated facility, it might have been good to consult with some of the 30,000 residents of Springfield to see if this would be their choice.
One of the greatest battles a person with a disability has to face is the stereotype that because we’re different, we should be segregated. That is why people with disabilities are warehoused in institutions rather than accommodated in community settings; why our children still have to fight for an equal education to prepare them for a productive, self-sustaining life; why landlords won’t rent to us and employers won’t hire us. Now the great fanfare around the planning of a segregated fitness center reinforces that painful stereotype.
I have been disabled since childhood and was raised to believe that I was no less in worth than my non-disabled siblings, that I had the same rights they did, and that I was expected to meet the responsibilities in my life. Those responsibilities include participating fully in my community and making my personal contributions where appropriate. That is how I have lived my life and what I have asked in return is a level playing field – no special considerations and certainly no segregation from other members of my community. I find this proposal abhorrent.
I would like to thank the volunteers from the Illinois EPA internship program and their supporting sponsors, Kurt Neibergall, Amy Boley and Scott Tompkins, for spending a full day in the heat working with Chuck Smith, the Springfield Park District tree crew and the Friends of Washington Park. They removed invasive vegetation such as bush honeysuckle and other non-native species in support of the ongoing oak regeneration program in Washington Park.
This program is part of the vegetation management plan developed by Friends of the Sangamon Valley and approved by the SPB in 2005 as an effort to promote healthier woodland areas within the park and aid in the regeneration of the native white and black oaks. Friends of Washington Park will continue to work with the Park District’s arborist, Chuck Smith, and his tree crew along with George Rose and Vern LaGesse from Friends of the Sangamon Valley in the continuing effort to preserve native vegetation and remove invasive species. This will help to ensure the preservation of the natural historic features of Washington Park for generations.
Vice President, Springfield
Chairman, Friends of Washington Park Committee