Reflecting upon the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, I reread one of my favorite inspirational stories: The Starfish Story. This story was presented to me on a plaque when I graduated from Partners in Policymaking in 2006. To reiterate from an earlier post, the Partners curriculum teaches self advocacy and disability determination to people with disabilities and parents of children with disabilities. The adapted text is below.
“The Starfish Story
A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up, and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.
She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”
The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied,
“Well, I made a difference to that one!”
The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved-- adapted from the Star Thrower by Loren C. Eiseley”
This story highlights the significance of individual action, or -- in advocacy-- the power of a single voice. Almost 20 years after passing the “Emancipation Proclamation" for the disability community, I am still flabbergasted by stagnant unemployment rates, the emphasis on institutionalized services and inadequate educational supports in restrictive environments among others.
I am grateful to Ed Roberts and his “artichoke heart” perspective to advocacy. Through his and the efforts of many others decades of oppression ended. Before ADA, Roberts’ fought for educational equality in universities. This demonstrates the effectiveness of self advocacy and other actions to positively influence outcomes. In the next 20 years, I have a dream that disability history is integrated with secondary school curriculums. I know the current generation of disability advocates will be up to this task.
Nathan D Turner