restricted access Chapter 20. Activists and Organizers, Part 3
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355 20 Activists and Organizers, Part 3 -   The 504 workshops weren’t the only place where people with disabilities were educated to be community organizers. Kitty Cone was able to bring to the disability rights movement her experience as an activist with the Socialist Workers Party and other groups on the Left. Other leaders, such as Wade Blank and Michael Auberger, received their political education through religious groups, including the social justice wing of the Catholic church. And as John Lancaster demonstrates, not all aspiring activists had to be prompted to feel entitled to their civil rights or to show anger at how society had treated them. John Lancaster “I was mega-pissed, and it was really easy to express that.” John A. Lancaster is a Vietnam-era Marine Corps veteran who has been active in the disability rights movement since the mid-1970s as a lobbyist and an attorney, first with the Paralyzed Veterans of America, then with the American Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities and the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities. Most recently, he has been working on the international scene, returning to Vietnam beginning in the 1990s to work with disabled veterans there. “I got shot in a firefight on May 5, 1968. I took an AK-47 round through the chest cavity laterally. It punctured two lungs, just missed my heart, and clipped the inside of my spinal column, at thoracic five and six.” After surgery at a MASH and transfer to a hospital still in Vietnam, “some navy doctor came up to me and said, ‘Lieutenant, we’re awful busy here, and I’ve got a lot of surgeries to do, so I’ll make it sweet and quick.” Lancaster, he said, would most likely be paralyzed for the rest of his life, but he “shouldn’t worry because ‘they can do 356 chapter 20 wonderful things with rehab these days, and I don’t think they institutionalize paraplegics anymore, so you should be able to go back to work doing something . . . . Your family is being informed. Good luck.’ And then he moved on. “My first real interest in civil rights came while I was in Vietnam. We had a very racially mixed platoon, and when Martin Luther King was assassinated a lot of my troops, particularly the black guys, were like, ‘What are we doing over here? Why are we here fighting this silly war?’ We were having a hard time getting a handle around why these people were a threat to the United States, because all they were doing was fighting to unify their country, and to have a better life for their family and kids. So it started me thinking about a lot of things. “The day after I arrived at St. Albans Naval Hospital [in Cleveland, his last stop before returning to his parents’ home in western New York], Robert Kennedy was assassinated. I remember watching that on a TV they had in the room that I shared with another fellow. That was really something.” While I was at the spinal cord injury center a guy came into my room by the name of Peter Lassen. He came in with some other fellow who lived in the Cleveland area. They were both in wheelchairs, and they were going around introducing themselves, talking about PVA and trying to get people to sign up for membership. They talked about their service program to represent veterans with disabilities before the Veterans Administration , to make sure that they’re getting everything that they’re entitled to, and that they’re getting the proper health care, and that they’re getting supported in a way that allows them to live productively and successfully in the community. And they also told us about a sports program that they ran, and some other things. And they were interested in spinal cord injury research and research on better treatment methods. It made a lot of sense to me, so I joined. I went home and moved back in with my mom and dad, until I could figure out what I was going to do. They had modified our house with a mechanical lift so that I could come in off the driveway and get on the lift and either go up to the first floor of the house, or go down into the basement where my parents had set up a bathroom with a roll-in shower and grab bars and all of that, and...


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Subject Headings

  • United States. Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
  • People with disabilities -- Civil rights -- United States -- History.
  • People with disabilities -- Legal status, laws, etc. -- United States -- History.
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