The passage of time yields progress for everyone
I'm re-publishing this column as part of my online blog. I still believe the message is appropriate today and is an example of the activities many of us with disabilities can enjoy in the United States, and perhaps around the world. Photos may be added to this posting from my collection or the web. Some of the organization names may have changed or no longer exist in New York State as of this writing. I hope you find this column helpful and informative.
Change tends to creep up on you. Before you know what has occurred -- what was in is now out -- and what used to be out appears in at an antique shop in Nyack, New York.
For example, I turned on my stereo the other day at the request of my two-year-old son Jimmy, who wanted to dance.
As Jimmy "hopped" around the living room, I took an inventory of my stereo equipment: one receiver and one single cassette tape deck, both about 15 years old, and one
single-draw CD player, about five years old. Something was missing: no turntable.
As a kid in the South Bronx, there seemed to be a turntable or record player, as we called them, in every apartment. In fact, my last count of 45 r.p.m. records and vinyl albums was a little more than 500 – – and I grew up poor.
My, how things have changed, I thought. My son and daughter, Danielle, are growing up in a house without a turntable. Boy, did I feel old.
Old-fashioned cash registers also seemed to have gone the way of the record player. "Scanning" groceries at the supermarket checkout counter, a relatively new technology for consumers, is now commonplace.
When I joined IBM in 1976, scanners weren't as popular as they are now. Everything is scanned into the computerized cash register today, from groceries to clothes to auto parts.
Changes have also crept up on people with disabilities during the span of just 30 to 50 years. Before World War II, a person sustaining a spinal cord injury would almost surely die – usually because of complications with the kidneys and bladder.
In the 1940s and '50s, Dr. Howard Rusk and other medical pioneers discovered how to manage a person with a spinal cord injury, and now many more of us are kept alive today.
And back then, a severely disabled person driving herself to work was unheard of. Today, thousands of people drive cars and vans with hand controls, wheelchair lifts and other technological wonders.
Now, disabled people can participate in all kinds of sports: snow and water skiing, swimming, wheelchair races and wheelchair basketball. There are even travel agents catering to the needs of the disabled traveler.
Love and courtship have changed, too. There was a time when disabled people were kept in institutions, segregated from society. Now, able-bodied people date and marry disabled people, and they even raise families together. And sadly, they even divorce.
What about a law guaranteeing the rights of people with disabilities? Unheard of just 30 years ago. Now, there's a tough and aggressive Americans with Disabilities Act, with teeth to protect rights and to literally remove architectural barriers obstructing disabled people today.
Just look at how far we've come. I believe that change will come even faster as technology and medical expertise combine to cure all types of ailments, from spinal cord injury to blindness to birth defects.
The question I marvel at when I think about all of this is: "How far can we go?"
The song is over and Jimmy is asking me to find another radio station. "Sure, Jimmy," I said. "Who knows? In 10 years I may be 'hopping' with you."