Don't Erase People With Disabilities From Our History Books
By Katie Laackmann
River City High School
For me and other youth with disabilities, the “back to school” season has special significance this year. Over the summer, our state legislature passed a bill that will finally require California public schools to include the history of the disability rights movement in social studies and history lessons and on July 14, Governor Brown signed it into law.
In 2010, youth with disabilities led the effort to establish the second week in October as Disability History Week and on the heels of that victory, SB 48 (Leno), the Fair, Accurate, Inclusive and Respectful (FAIR) Education Act will now ensure that our peers in K-12 schools learn about the contributions people with disabilities have made in our country.
It wasn’t that long ago that many people with disabilities couldn’t attend mainstream schools, plan to go to college, or even be guaranteed access to buses or public buildings. We have a long history of being segregated in institutions. The gains we’ve made, including the groundbreaking Americans with Disabilities Act passage two decades ago, came because fearless civil rights leaders like Ed Roberts and the Rolling Quads demanded equality for our community.
Roberts, a Californian who spearheaded the Independent Living movement and worked tirelessly to advance the rights of people with disabilities, catalyzed a nationwide movement to ensure that people with disabilities can shape our own futures. He overcame numerous societal obstacles to gain admission to UC Berkeley and later went on to become the Director of the California Department of Vocational Rehabilitation. While attending UC Berkeley, Roberts and other students united to open the doors of education for more students like me. Yet if you open a high school history book today, you probably won’t be able to read about these individuals and others who helped to show that people with disabilities can achieve the goals we set for ourselves. That will change under the FAIR Education Act Gov. Brown signed into law in July.
I’m so happy that the FAIR Education Act was passed because I want young people with disabilities to learn about Ed Roberts and other disability rights leaders and know that they too can change the world for the better. With bullying still far too common in our schools and a particular challenge for people with disabilities, I’m hopeful that the FAIR Education Act will also help reduce discrimination and stigma towards the disability community by fostering a better understanding between students with and without disabilities.
It’s time to finally recognize the contributions of all of California’s diverse people. To that end, the FAIR Education Act will also require that the history of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) communities be included in social studies classes. Yet less than a month after Governor Brown signed The FAIR Education Act, several anti-gay groups have launched an effort to erase this historic piece of legislation from the history books with a referendum on the November ballot.
I’m proud to go to school in a state where educators can now discuss our history inclusively, fairly and accurately. In order for youth to have a full understanding of our history, then our history and social studies lessons have to include the contributions made by people in the disability rights movement and the LGBT rights movement right alongside lessons about the civil rights movement and the pioneers of women’s suffrage.
For this reason, it’s so important for us to make sure that The Fair Education Act does not get overturned. It’s time for our history and social studies class lessons and discussions to be as rich and diverse as the history of California.
For more information on our efforts to promote understanding in our schools, please visit www.yodisabledproud.org
Katie Laackmann is a Senior at River City High School in Sacramento.