This Saturday is Chicago’s Disability Pride parade, to celebrate Disability Awareness Month.

“Disability” used to have a very limited application and although not everyone is aware of it, the definition has widened to include people with chronic physical illnesses or conditions, learning disabilities, cognitive disorders or delays, mental illnesses, and autism spectrum disorders.

We’ve hunted through the archive to find three recordings that demonstrate the broad mindset of the disability community, and that remind listeners, then and now, that being different is nothing to be ashamed of.

Something else that has changed over the years is the language used to describe people with disabilities.  Now it is understood that terms such as “retarded” and “cripple” are derogatory, and even seemingly harmless words like “handicapped” and “disabled person” have been replaced by “person/people with a disability.”  As you’re listening, please be aware that Studs and his guests are using the most appropriate language of their time.

All of these interviews took place before the American Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990.  The people he spoke with lived in a world without ramps, without Braille in public places, without mandated interpreters for hearing-impaired students, and a great many other supports that we have come to expect.  We talk now about “invisible disabilities,” but these people lived in an era when nearly everyone with a disability was invisible.

The first interview is with poet and teacher Richard Kinney, and was recorded in 1964.  Mr. Kinney was blind and deaf, and his interpreter Marcia signs into his hand, making for a unique auditory experience for the listeners.  Here, Mr. Kinney talks about his poetry and about the images he remembers from before he lost his sight.

Next up is a clip from a 1970 conversation with Mrs. Alberta Patterson.  Her son was diagnosed as autistic; she did not want to put him in a home and could not afford a private school, so she got together with other parents and started the S.T.E.P. school in Chicago.  Alice Jerome, the principal, is also part of the conversation.

In this 1981 interview with Susan Nussbaum of Access Living and Michael Pachovas of the Disabled Prisoners Program, they speak about the Disabled Americans Freedom Rally, budget cuts made by the Reagan administration, and the everyday challenges faced by people with mobility and other types of disabilities.  We have included the entire interview because of its relevance to today’s discussions around healthcare and social services.  (You can read more about Pachovas’s experience with the Freedom Rally here.)

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