New Opportunities for the Disabled

March 16, 1984

Report Outline
Climate for Change
Landmark Legislation
Pioneering Advances
Special Focus

Climate for Change

Evidence of General Attitudinal Shift

In Los Angeles, at the University of California's Neuropsychiatric Institute, parents and their preschool deaf children learn to communicate through sign language and lip reading. In Westmont, Pa., a quadriplegic uses a computerized system activated by his breath to make telephone calls, tune in a television and turn on the lights in his house. At the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., blind attorneys use specially adapted “talking” computer terminals to obtain complete access to legal data banks. In Boston, a paralyzed man uses a sip-and-puff air tube to control the movement of his motorized wheelchair. At Pittsburgh's Rehabilitation Institute paralyzed patients “speak” by staring into a computerized electronic grid hooked to a video camera that translates eye movements into synthesized speech. In Dayton, Ohio, a young woman whose spinal cord was severed in an automobile accident walks several steps with the aid of computerized electrical stimulation devices attached to her nerves and joints.

These are just some of the technological breakthroughs that are helping disabled people lead more normal lives today. Aided by computerized technology, innovative rehabilitation techniques and laws banning discrimination against the disabled, many handicapped persons have broken down barriers that once denied them opportunities most able-bodied persons take for granted. More handicapped persons than ever before are receiving formal education, gaining employment and leading more self-reliant lives. “We are on the periphery now of many wonderful things,” said Dr. Margaret J. Giannini, director of the Veterans Administration's Rehabilitation, Research and Development Service. “The possibilities are so tremendous that we can do many, many things for the paralyzed, the blind and the deaf.…The technology is there and I think 10 years from now it's going to be even better. I'm very excited about the '80s; I think many things are going to happen.”

An important component in the rising opportunities for disabled persons is an attitudinal change among the disabled as well as the public at large. A decade ago handicapped citizens began to demand equal rights. Today the message that the disabled have the right to become self-sufficient, independent citizens seems to have taken hold. “People are finally recognizing that disabled people are part of this society, that you can't hide them away,” said Michael Winter, executive director of the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, Calif. “People are realizing that there's nothing wrong with being disabled, that it's a state of being like any other state in society and there are some very positive things about that.” Added Jim Norgard of the Courage Center, a Minnesota rehabilitation organization: “We're definitely—in both the minds of the able-bodied and the physically disabled people—getting away from this long-worn stereotype of the poor crippled person that's to be pitied and taken care of. A disabled person doesn't want pity and doesn't want to be taken care of. They want to be given the opportunity to pick themselves up by their own bootstraps and function as independently as possible.”

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Disabled Persons
Apr. 23, 2010  Caring for Veterans
Dec. 20, 1996  Implementing the Disabilities Act
Dec. 27, 1991  The Disabilities Act
Mar. 16, 1984  New Opportunities for the Disabled
Jul. 24, 1981  Mainstreaming: Handicapped Children in the Classroom
Nov. 22, 1974  Rights of the Handicapped
Nov. 11, 1950  Rehabilitation of Disabled Persons
Civil Rights and Civil Liberty Issues
People with Disabilities