May 4, 2013

It’s often said that people with disabilities make up the only minority demographic group that any of us can join at any time. This became shockingly clear in Boston when bombs ripped into a crowd as diverse as America, creating dozens of new members of that club no one chooses.

Young and old, male and female, gay and straight, native and foreign-born, well-heeled and not so much: They’re us. But are they still? Or have they become “other” — a community of victims and heroes united not just by loss but by their new status as “the disabled”?

We raise money, provide rehabilitation, offer emotional support. But when the rawness has eased, how will we communicate, behave and work side by side? Will we hire, promote, date, love and hang out with people who must do things differently? 

Make no mistake: Disability can be inconvenient. As someone who works to make sure that workplaces are open to people of all abilities, I know that spaces and services need to be thoughtfully designed; jobs and careers must be approached in flexible ways. We may plan different activities, go different places and get there by other means. It will take time, money, and a new mind-set — not just in this “kumbaya moment” but for the long haul.

What will we learn from Boston? That story is yet to be written. But if one good thing can come of this horror, let it be the understanding that there is no “they,” only “we,” united in our imperfect humanity, each of us with a full range of abilities and disabilities.

Lori Beck Golden, Potomac