- Forward-- and backward
- by Ken Stein
The Postal Service may be a good barometer of social attitudes toward
In 1960, the USPS issued its first stamp ever dealing with disability
- a four-cent first-class stamp depicting a blue-collar worker sitting
in a wheelchair working at a drill press. The text read, "Employ
In 1969, a few years before the start of the independent living/disability
rights movement, a six-cent stamp depicted a silhouetted boy in four superimposed
progressive strobe images: sitting in his wheelchair, pushing himself out
of his wheelchair, standing up, and walking. The text read, "Hope
for the crippled."
In 1981, nearly a decade into the independent living/disability rights
movement and four years after the 504 sit-ins and the implementation of
Section 504 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, an 18-cent
first-class stamp depicts a well-groomed bearded professional Ivy-League
type in a sweater and a modern wheelchair, leaning forward over a microscope
and papers at his desk. It reads, "Disabled doesn't mean Unable."
There have also been stamps celebrating the Special Olympics ("Skill
- Sharing - Joy," showing a smiling girl proudly holding out her gold
medal), American Sign Language/Recognizing Deafness (a deaf mother holding
her baby, signing "I love you") and Special Education.
Yet now, in 1998, a quarter century into the disability rights movement
and 8 years after the passage of the ADA, when Christopher Reeve's Celebration
of Hope airs with its "small step for man," one has to wonder
if we've begun a giant march backwards - 2 decades worth - to a pre- disability
rights time when "hope for the crippled" meant getting out of
your wheelchair and walking.
Now that really would be a pity.
Editor's Note: Christopher Reeve's TV special to get donations
for spinal cord injury research aired March 1st on ABC.
- Ken Stein is with DREDF.
Back to table of contents