“Dr. King’s dream was not for us to define ourselves or be defined by what we have or what we don’t have,but to live up to the best that we can be,” Gadson said at the Department of Defense’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Observance on Thursday at the Pentagon. As the keynote speaker,he expressed his perspective on King’s message and how the fight for disability equality has not yet been won.
In May 2007,Gadson lost both of his legs and full use of his right arm and hand while serving in Iraq when his vehicle was hit by a homemade bomb. Five years later,he became the first double amputee commander of a major installation at Fort Belvoir,Va. He is still on active duty.
He said he knows this is not the case for all injured workers because 80 percent of people with disabilities are not in the U.S. labor force.
“This is a sign we have work to do,” Gadson said. “Disabilities should not define us. … It should be about our humanity and the way we treat each other.”
Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990,making it illegal for employers to discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities. According to the National Organization on Disability,the number of disabled people working full-time has since declined.
Nonprofit groups,including Goodwill Industries,are working to prevent those statistics from continuing by hiring qualified disabled individuals and offering continuing support. Last year 30,000 of Goodwill Industries’ 113,000 employees nationwide had a disability.
“Diversity is at the heart of America’s strength. … When everyone who’s qualified to serve,can serve,” Chuck Hagel,secretary of defense,said at the observance before Gadson was presented with a special recognition plaque.
“It’s right for us to celebrate Dr. King’s dream and his vision of unity. And yet it’s also important in this day to remind ourselves that such progress did not come easily,” Gadson said.
The Department of Veterans Affairs will host a showcase Jan. 29 to inform disabled veterans about employment resources.
Reach reporter Cathryn Walker at [email protected] or (202) 326-9867. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.