28 03 2008

Discrimination takes on all forms

Disability and racism conference is April 7 at Southwest Minnesota State University

By Dana Yost

March 27, 2008


Sometimes it’s over race. Sometimes religion. Other times over someone’s disability.

Discrimination takes place in a variety of ways, affecting a variety of people, but to Kelly Buckland all forms can be fought in the name of the same movement.

Civil rights.

“Oppression is oppression,” said Buckland, the executive director of the Idaho State Independent Living Council and the president of the National Council on Independent Living — both organizations that promote independent living for disabled.

“Whether it is related to race, religion or disability … it’s all connected to the civil rights issue.”

Buckland will be one of four speakers at the annual disability and racism conference April 7 at Southwest Minnesota State University. The event is sponsored by SMSU’s Office of Cultural Diversity, and the Southwestern Center for Independent Living.

The other speakers are Patricia Morman, a longtime civil rights activist who lived through civil rights unrest in Memphis, Tenn.; Dan Snobl, the director of physical education and Disabled Student Services at SMSU; and John Patrick Morman, the assistant director of the Office of Cultural Diversity.

Buckland, who recently testified in front of Congress in favor of more funding for independent living support, said he usually casts his argument for independent living in the civil rights light: People with disabilities have the same right to live on their own, make their own decisions and choose their life’s course as any of us.

Yet, he said, obstacles to such a right remain.

In Idaho, where he is based in Boise, Buckland said there is still a tendency to put people with mental disabilities behind walls — in an institution or jail — or force them into some sort of treatment. He says the same happens in other states.

“(But) I find in my own state of Idaho this year, we are facing a lot of stuff around mental health issues,” he said. “There doesn’t seem like there’s a real willingness to seek community service, to help these people stay in their own communities.

“There’s more institutionalization and prison (discussion) and forced treatment, rather than helping those who seek treatment voluntarily.

“You can say the same thing about all disabilities, a tendency to institutionalize. People seem bent on shutting them away or locking them out of participating (in society).”

Buckland said support for independent living is better for society and those affected — both financially and socially.

He testified in Congress that it costs government less to back independent living facilities than it does to pay for institutionalizing people. Yet, Congress — and state governments, too — have recently been cutting independent living budgets.

He said his organizations are calling for Congress to do three things: stop the cutting, restore funding to levels they were at before the cuts and then actually increase funding to new levels.

He said his case was received well by Congress, “because centers for independent living really save the taxpayers a lot of money.

“We are just asking Congress to reinvest back in a program that saves money.”

On the civil rights side, reinvesting also has pluses, he said.

“It’s better (to fund the program),” Buckland said. “It’s better for people with disabilities if they have control over their own lives, and it’s always better for society for a number of reasons.

“One is the costs, but that’s not the most important. It’s more important because society can benefit from what people with disabilities have to contribute.”

Buckland will gear his talk April 7 to students, because he is speaking at SMSU. The university, of course, has been a pioneer in disability access since its construction. Snobl has worked on campus for much of its existence. His own speech will be titled “Spirit is Stronger Than Disability,” and will reflect on 40 years of the university’s experiences with students with disabilities.

“Individuals with disabilities have influenced my life through their hard work and perseverance,” Snobl said. “In my talk, I will define ‘spirit’ both in stories with reference to individuals with disabilities, their families and the role SMSU had in shaping their journey in life.”

Snobl said society and the university have an obligation to “improve the lives of people without power.”

“Southwest Minnesota State University must continue its historical commitment in serving students with disabilities and their families,” he added. “Education must be the vehicle of hope where an individual’s full potential is developed and realized.

“SMSU must set the bar for universal accessibility in architectural design and community awareness where all individuals seek to be in control of their lives to be loved, love and be able to contribute back to their communities.”

Snobl didn’t use the words civil rights, but like Buckland, he talked about being an advocate to help those with disabilities live full lives.

“We must believe in all people and their self-worth,” Snobl said. “My involvement has been based on a passion for caring. By caring, we increase knowledge and understanding where people are at in their lives and how we can help them achieve the goals they want to accomplish.

“We must be the advocates of hope and challenge when barriers are imposed on individuals with disabilities restricting their access to a full and inclusive life.”




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