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UD's Center for Disabilities Studies celebrated its 20th anniversary.

CDS anniversary celebration

Center for Disabilities Studies marks 20th with theme 'Educate, Connect, Empower'

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8:30 a.m., Oct. 8, 2013--Keith P. Jones is insulted and patronized on a regular basis. In airports, in grocery stores, even getting coffee. And why is this intelligent, entertaining, hard working individual subjected to this behavior?

Jones has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, which means the woman at the airport asks the stranger behind him in line if he needs help boarding the plane. When he goes in to vote, the election official questions if he really feels qualified to make a decision. Once, when he was sitting outside his office smoking a cigarette, someone handed him a $10 bill.

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These were stories the audience at the University of Delaware Center for Disabilities Studies’ 20th anniversary celebration could relate to. Many of them had similar experiences or heard similar stories. 

But Jones’ message wasn’t one of anger. His mantra is “we can’t just change policy, we have to change attitudes.” He is president and CEO of SoulTouchin’ Experiences, an organization dedicated to inclusion. And he offered his appreciation for the work CDS has done and continues to do -- advocating for individuals with disabilities. 

The theme for the evening was “Educate -- Connect -- Empower.” Held at Clayton Hall on Oct. 2, the 20th anniversary celebration included a reception, remarks from leaders in the community and a video featuring interviews from the people they’ve impacted. 

UD alumna Rita Landgraf, a member of the Class of 1980 who serves as secretary of Delaware Health and Social Services, explained the important role that CDS has played throughout the years. “CDS has been a prime mover in helping my department achieve their goals,” she said. “They have played a pivotal role in all areas of government, collaborating with our departments of transportation, housing and education, to make them more inclusive for our citizens.”

Lynn Okagaki, dean of the College of Education and Human Development, recognized not only the work CDS does for the community but the invaluable opportunities it provides UD students. “CDS is a living laboratory, where students from across the University can gain real life experience working with individuals with disabilities.”

But the message Jones delivered that evening was the most compelling. 

He explained how most families are discouraged from expecting their child to become a productive member of society. They are taught to accept that their child may graduate high school, but will then transition into social services. They will not go to college, get a job, live on their own or raise a family. 

“People don’t expect us to dream the same dreams,” said Jones. “What they don’t appreciate is that our dreams aren’t different than anyone else’s, we just take a different road to get there.” 

 

He explained that living with a disability is the last great civil rights struggle. There are 60 million people with disabilities in the United States. Leaders should not consider that they are doing people a favor by providing accommodations. It is the right of individuals with disabilities to have the equal access to jobs, housing, education and health insurance. 

“Individuals with disabilities deserve the same future as everyone else. They deserve social justice,” said Jones. “CDS understands this. They have made a difference in the lives of hundreds of people over the years. Not only for people who have come through your doors, but the people who can now become an integral part of the community.”

The message he wants people to remember is simple. “Our humanity is not defined by our disability. It should not be considered ‘progressive’ to want to live the American dream. It is our right.” 

About the Center for Disabilities Studies 

The Center for Disabilities Studies, within UD’s College of Education and Human Development, supports the well-being, inclusion and empowerment of people with disabilities and their families. 

For more information on the services CDS provides or news for Delawareans with disabilities, visit the website or Facebook page, email ud-cds@udel.edu or call 302-831-6974. 

Article by Alison Burris

Photos by Duane Perry

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