John Ralston Saul from the Foreword to Through The Eyes of Artists, 2004 Nina Hagerty Centre for the Arts

… those of us who are lucky enough to have been close to a person with disabilities know the talents they have, what they can do and the impact they have on those around them.  Some people will dismiss their contributions because there is a foolish contemporary fashion that equates intelligence with speed. 

I think they are many forms of intelligence and many ways of being smart.  Many of them do not involve speed.  They may even seem slow to some.  But they also involve a great deal more consciousness because they come from people with disabilities.  After all, speed can also be equated with unconsciousness.  People with disabilities have to work harder to make their contributions.  That very act of working harder is a form of hard-earned consciousness.  And that consciousness is a central part of the contribution which they have to make to society.  What's more it is close to the eternal idea of the human as a conscious being who can imagine the other.

In other words, having disabilities can mean a different form of observation, an approach others might not have thought of.  One contribution of people with disabilities is that they bring an interesting balance to our society.  They can actually help us complete our idea of citizenship in a broader more inclusive manner.

Citizenship comes in two parts: rights and obligations.  You don't get one without the other.  All citizens have rights.  But in addition, all citizens, to the best of their abilities – whatever their abilities may be – have obligations.  These two are of equal importance and it is only when our positions rest equally on both rights and obligations that we are truly citizens.

I hear from people with disabilities all over the country that they don't simply want access to their rights, they want to exercise their obligations.  They want to participate and they want to contribute.  Accessing rights is a very limited approach: it is a one way relationship where little or nothing is expected in return.  Such an approach is not sustainable since it treats a person with a disability as a cost to the public good.  They should be encouraged to participate.  They have the right and the obligation to participate.  This is the normal life of a responsible individual.

Everyone – including people with disabilities – has something to contribute to society.  If disabled people are encouraged and expected to contribute, not only will they rise to the challenge and relish it, but society as a whole will gain tremendously from their insight, their struggles, their victories and successes.  Society will benefit from their consciousness and the care for others which results.

NOTE:

This reflection is part of the series: How People With Disabilities Will Save the World.  I welcome your suggestions or guest contributions.  You can access the whole series by clicking the category: Save the World.

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