This is National Employ the Handicapped Week.
It is also National 4-H Week, Fire Prevention Week and National Spinning and Weaving Week. But what are we really celebrating?
Presidents, governors and mayors keep proclaiming these weeks and organizations keep declaring them as a way of selling products, ideas or themselves.
If people will buy flowers or greeting cards on Mother's Day or Father's Day, why not try for a grandchildren's day or a mother-in-law's day? If every dog has his day, don't the dogcatchers deserve at least a week?
Some weeks reward people for things they should be doing anyway, like preventing fires. It seems harmless enough. But I have to admit that I used to hate National Employ the Handicapped Week.
Communities mark the week with awards for employers who hire handicapped people. It wasn't the ceremonies I objected to, it was the contradictory messages they conveyed. I spent five years teaching employers that qualified handicapped people can work as well as non-handicapped people. Why honor employers for doing what we say is just ordinary good business?
I have a disability, an arm paralyzed from birth that I cannot raise above my waist. This disability has never affected my professional ability. Should an employer get an award for hiring me?
During the late 1970s, it was easy to label hire-the-handicapped-weeks as events that had outlived their usefulness. This was the heyday of the handicapped rights movement. We were getting ready to reap the benefits of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Education of All Handicapped Children Act, laws that opened doors to education and employment in the mainstream of American life.
Handicapped people developed a new slang: ambulatory people were "walkies," non-ambulatory people were "wheelies." We called each other "crips" or "gimps." We called all others "T.A.B."--for temporarily able-bodied.
We even had our own movie, "Coming Home," a love-story in which the wheelie and not the walkie got the girl. Jane Fonda used sign language when she accepted her Oscar for the film.
Blue access signs were blooming on buildings everywhere. Heady with success, handicapped advocates began to believe their own rhetoric. They demanded wheelchair access to all transportation, even holding up Metro openings until elevators were built at all stations.
Excesses come easy when you are the cause of the moment. Handicapped people thought that they had an unlimited ticket to ride, but it was one of the shortest glory trips on record. Supporters soon discovered that you couldn't just pay lip service to the cause; you had to pay cash for ramps and readers for the blind.
As the momentum of the movement grew, so did the estimates of the cost of accessibility. The costs were still coming in as the economy caved in around us. Many of the walkies walked away.
When you're hot, you're hot. When you're not, you need a week, a reminder that 36 million people with disabilities didn't disappear when the cheering stopped.
So this year I am going to take part in National Employ the Handicapped Week. I may even enjoy myself out there celebrating with the spinners, the weavers, the 4-H'ers and Smokey the Bear.