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Karen Wang
BY Karen Wang

10 Reasons This Special Needs Mom Loves the USA

A few years ago, my family had the opportunity to move abroad for a two-year work assignment.  It was exactly what my husband and I had always dreamed of.  But we knew right away that we couldn’t accept the offer, because our son would have had a significantly lower quality of life in that country.

As we considered our son’s civil rights in the USA more carefully, we found many reasons to be thankful for living in the United States of America:

1. Right to attend school

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits disability-related discrimination in federally-funded programs, makes it possible for my son to attend public school.  In many other countries, children with disabilities are not permitted to attend school.  For example, according to data released by the French government, fewer than 20 percent of French children with autism attend school in their own country.

2. Inclusion

One of the things I love most about my fellow Americans is the general sense that everyone belongs here, regardless of race, religion or ability.  Even though we still struggle with the logistics of inclusion, it is a goal that most American institutions strive toward, and we rejoice with every success.

3. IDEA

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) took the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 even further by defining eligibility for services, a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) and the requirements for an Individualized Education Program (IEP).  This law allows my son to receive an education that meets his unique needs.

4. Accessibility

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) literally lays down the law for the civil rights of people with disabilities.  The law prohibits discrimination in employment, public transportation and public accommodations.  This means that parks, athletic facilities, schools, shopping malls and other public spaces are now accessible to people with disabilities.

5. Police enforce parking

Laws like the ADA are useless if they are not supported by the whole community.  I was visiting a friend in Europe who explained that even though she has an accessible parking space near her apartment reserved for her use, she often cannot use it because individuals without disabilities take her spot.  Her city’s police will not ticket cars illegally parked in her space.

I have never seen this happen in the USA – in fact, I have seen American police officers place several tickets on illegally parked cars and even have those cars towed.  As a result, those parking spaces are almost always available to the people who need them and have permits for them.

6. Athletics and extracurriculars

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Education clarified schools’ legal obligation to provide equal opportunity for athletic teams and extracurricular activities.   This means that my son can join his school’s track team and yearbook committee.

7. Specialized nonprofits and grassroots organizations

The USA is filled with foundations, non-profit organizations and civic organizations that want to help improve quality of life for individuals with disabilities.

8. Availability of information

Historically speaking, Americans excel at disseminating information.  Websites like  wrightslaw.com and the Friendship Circle Blog help everyone understand their rights regarding special education and other quality of life issues.

9. Right to vote

When he turns 18, my son will have the right to vote for representation and public referenda – just like all other adult citizens of the USA.

10. Sense of fairness

Most Americans seem to understand the concept of a level playing field.  It has taken centuries for the full impact of the words of the Declaration of Independence to sink in, but we are finally on our way to fulfilling the vision of that document:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Now tell us why you like the United States of America…

Karen Wang

Written on July 3, 2013 by:

Karen Wang is a Friendship Circle parent. You may have seen her sneaking into the volunteer lounge for ice cream or being pushed into the cheese pit by laughing children. She is a contributing author to the anthology "My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids With Disabilities"
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