A few years ago, my family had the opportunity to move abroad for a two-year work assignment. It was exactly what my husband and I had always dreamed of. But we knew right away that we couldn’t accept the offer, because our son would have had a significantly lower quality of life in that country.
As we considered our son’s civil rights in the USA more carefully, we found many reasons to be thankful for living in the United States of America:
1. Right to attend school
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits disability-related discrimination in federally-funded programs, makes it possible for my son to attend public school. In many other countries, children with disabilities are not permitted to attend school. For example, according to data released by the French government, fewer than 20 percent of French children with autism attend school in their own country.
One of the things I love most about my fellow Americans is the general sense that everyone belongs here, regardless of race, religion or ability. Even though we still struggle with the logistics of inclusion, it is a goal that most American institutions strive toward, and we rejoice with every success.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) took the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 even further by defining eligibility for services, a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) and the requirements for an Individualized Education Program (IEP). This law allows my son to receive an education that meets his unique needs.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) literally lays down the law for the civil rights of people with disabilities. The law prohibits discrimination in employment, public transportation and public accommodations. This means that parks, athletic facilities, schools, shopping malls and other public spaces are now accessible to people with disabilities.
5. Police enforce parking
Laws like the ADA are useless if they are not supported by the whole community. I was visiting a friend in Europe who explained that even though she has an accessible parking space near her apartment reserved for her use, she often cannot use it because individuals without disabilities take her spot. Her city’s police will not ticket cars illegally parked in her space.
I have never seen this happen in the USA – in fact, I have seen American police officers place several tickets on illegally parked cars and even have those cars towed. As a result, those parking spaces are almost always available to the people who need them and have permits for them.