December 5, 2022

Each year as December approaches, holidays such as Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas typically come to mind. While we the public have become aware of holidays outside of our own traditions, there are other vital holidays celebrated this month that should be equally recognized. One of these holidays is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), celebrated on December 3 to promote the equal rights, well-being and inclusion of those living with a disability.

Declared an international holiday of observance in 1992 by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolution 47/3, IDPD has assembled support for persons with disabilities, in particular for their rights and well-being. As the holiday gains awareness, it is the UN’s hope that persons of disabilities continue to integrate in every aspect of society: economic, social, political and cultural. Persons of disabilities must be included in the larger conversation of inclusion and equity, personal input, perspective and solutions brought about from their own experience. Understanding their personal experience is instrumental in promoting empathy, and in providing equal rights and opportunities; after all, who can better speak to their experiences, trials and tribulations?

A personal experience that comes to mind is my participation in the Freedom By Design (FBD) program during my undergrad years. FBD is an American Institute of Architecture students community service program that encourages them to apply their skills to real world designs that positively impact a community or household. In my case, it was designing an ADA (American with Disabilities Act) ramp for an individual who had recently suffered an accident that led to his daily use of a wheel chair. We (the group of students) could have simply created a code-compliant ramp that followed ADA guidelines however, we would then have failed to see the bigger picture or, for that matter, incorporate a more personal idea. As a group of students pursuing the role of architects we understood our responsibility to the client, and therefore understood that this ramp will be designed for him alone. We wanted to know more about his experiences and thoughts. It turned out that there was a chance he would be able to walk again, but it would be a process involving surgery and rehabilitation that would last for a period of time long enough to make the ramp an essential element for entering and exiting the house. With this in mind, our client expressed his desire for the designed ramp to be easily be removed in the future. Bringing the client to the table led to a more personal design element that not just met his current needs, but his future expectations as well.

While the story above discusses my personal experience working with a person with a hopefully short-term disability, it lends to the idea that bringing a person with disabilities into the discussion at all levels provides further equity and inclusion in all aspects of life mentioned by the UN.

A great real world example is Judith Heumann, a disability rights activist who authored “Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist”. Simply by sharing her story, Heumann removed the veil on the history of the Disabilities Rights Movement in the United States that was very much overlooked. By telling her story, she told the story of millions of others who are not equally included in society. Heumann’s voice helps to shape our ideas of what equality means to those who are disabled. Another perspective of hers to share is “nondisabled” people. This is important to understand because, she explains, disabilities are not exclusive to one particular type of person or individual. Unfortunate circumstances happen that may change a person’s ability to perform certain task or functions, whether temporarily or otherwise, not unlike our client who presently needed a ramp to enter his home. While you may currently be “nondisabled”, the hard truth is that that may not always be the case. If you were no longer a nondisabled person, wouldn’t you want other aspects of your life to proceed unaltered as much as possible? So why should those who are currently disabled not have the chance to experience a similar level of inclusion?

December is a time of appreciation where we spend time with families, give and receive gifts that let us know we are appreciated. Let’s start the cheer early in December to give recognition to those who are disabled, and keep their needs of inclusion and equal rights in mind. Their inclusion in political, economic, social and cultural aspects of life will bear testimony that we are a more enlightened society.

With that same spirit, here at Epstein we say Happy Holidays to all!