Today we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his vision to wipe out racism, ableism, and other types of discrimination. The work he did during the Civil Rights Movement laid the foundation for many marginalized groups to begin to fight for their rights as individuals, giving them access to resources and enabling them to achieve the American Dream.

The Civil Rights Act, passed in 1964, illegalized discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. At that time, individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) were not included. Instead, society held a negative stereotype toward these individuals and often sentenced them to a life in neglectful and sometimes cruel asylums or institutions. Their fight for inclusion included battling the same injustices that Dr. King faced, and both his words and actions inspired advocates around the country to act.

Dr. King emphasized that everyone can contribute to their community. “Everybody can be great…,” said King, “because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

Since 1964, the evolution of an all-inclusive America has experienced both big and small wins. But there are still many more opportunities to establish equality for marginalized groups, including individuals with IDD.

The pandemic has further magnified the issue of inequality for individuals with disabilities. For example, children with learning disabilities struggled when schools taught virtually, leaving these students with little to no special educational support. For example, according to the IndyStar, the US Department of Education is investigating Indiana’s special education services during the pandemic, based on parental complaints that “Indiana had failed to provide free appropriate public education to each qualified student with a disability.”

In addition, Individuals with IDD don’t always have the same access to medical information or resources as the rest of the community, or the ability to keep themselves safe from the virus. Historically, our neighbors living with an IDD were isolated from their communities; in recent years, great strides of community inclusion have been made but the digital divide has made it difficult for individuals with an IDD to connect with the community that they love.

Although major advancements have been made, there are still more opportunities to bring equality for those with disabilities. And probably even more for those who are disabled and fall into one of the other marginalized people groups. But as long as there are people who follow in Dr. King’s footsteps, forging forward to voice the inequalities that still exist, America will continue toward becoming an all-inclusive country. Dr. King once said, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

At ADEC, we will continue to advocate for our clients and do all we can to make sure they are able to live lives full of informed choice and possibility.