Dear Editor,

Your May 7 opinion column, “CEOs: Commit to Inclusiveness,” really caught my attention. I enjoyed the article. It is very timely and thought-provoking. I also applaud Dr. Ken Coopwood’s leadership and his capacity to be a catalyst for change in our community. We need it.

I’d like to throw my diversity-and-inclusion cog into the diversity wheel. At Southwest Center for Independent Living, we serve persons with disabilities – all ages, all disabilities and all ethnic backgrounds. In fact, there are between 54 million and 56 million people with disabilities in America, making it the largest minority in the United States.

Disability is the one minority that anyone at any age can join at anytime.

Disability is totally inclusive. It crosses all of the boundaries that society imposes – age, gender, social, economic, political, homeless, ethnicity and the list goes on.

As you stated “to change the future you must remember the past,” and in the United States, it is not a pretty reflection.

Between around 1840 and 1900 the American Circus showcased persons with disabilities as “freaks.” Through roughly 1920, the way to deal with “those people” was to warehouse them in institutions, jails or segregated prisons.

In 1907, Indiana passed a eugenics law giving the state authority to sterilize certain individuals in state custody who were thought to be at risk of passing down their mental or criminal problems. The law was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1927, and after numerous revisions, it was repealed in 1974.

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (a civil rights law, not a building code) was passed with the intent to end discrimination in many areas, including education and architecture, and to some extent act as a catalyst to change our attitudes. Yet every year or so we have to defend these rights with Congress.

In 2012, I still cannot take many of my friends with disabilities to dinner at some locations, or even to take a bathroom break because the restaurants and other public businesses are not accessible.

It does get personal, too. My immediate family is both ethnically diverse and has disabilities. I would really like to have them down here close to me, but my own daughter will not move to Springfield with her husband and children because of its lack of diversity.

I’ll take Dr. Coopwood’s challenge and stand with him because inclusiveness and diversity are at the heart of our independent living center’s core beliefs.

At Southwest Center for Independent Living, “We are with it.”

—Gary E. Maddox, Southwest Center for Independent Living executive director