Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Ugly Law

Had I been an adult in the 1960's or 1970's, it's likely I would have been arrested on more than one occasion. After watching the movie The Music Within, I sunk deeply into our couch. My mind was racing, my heart aching. Could it really be true? Could someone really be arrested for being ugly and/or disabled or for coming to the defense of someone who was? It couldn't be. I figured that it had to be one of those aspects of a "true story movie" that was loosely based. There was only one way to find out. Time to visit the internet.

I typed in "Music Within Ugly Law" and numerous links popped up. I was hesitant to click any of them. I wanted to know the truth, but there was a part of me that just wanted to keep thinking "This can't possibly be true?!?!" Sadly, and without much effort, I found the information I was hoping I wouldn't find. Beginning sometime in the early 1900's, an individual could be fined and/or arrested if they were found to be ugly by their peers. In places like Chicago, Omaha, Nebraska and Columbus, Ohio, the Ugly Law was clearly stated in their municipal code.

Chicago's Law read as follows: "No person who is diseased, maimed, or mutilated or in any way deformed so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object or improper person to be allowed in or on the public ways or other public places in this city, or shall therein or thereon expose himself to public view, under a penalty of not less than one dollar nor more than fifty dollars for each offense."

One of the reasons for such a hideous law was that the general public didn't want to deal with those who where disabled or who suffered some other poor, physical condition. If they were "out of sight", the truth of this "ugly" community didn't have to be dealt with.

As difficult as it was to read that this sort of thing existed (and not that long ago) wasn't a huge surprise as I began to ponder it more. I am just in my early thirties, but my exposure to individuals with disabilities and special needs was rare when I was growing up. My underexposure wasn't intentional. Individuals with special needs were not
included in classrooms back then. Organizations that were designed for such groups were in their early, formative years. In June, 1962, Eunice Kennedy Shriver hosted her first summer day camp from the backyard of her own home.

For decades, those with disabilities - especially when it was known at birth - had parents who were urged to place them in institutions. They were told their children would never walk or talk or be of value to society. For those who followed their hearts and kept their children within their family unit, they were often shunned by friends and even family. They feared going out. As I watched this movie, I had a better understanding of why I had not been exposed as a young girl. They were just beginning to emerge into society when I was born. They were finding their footing in a world that was fighting silently to keep them locked up and hidden away.

The existence of the "Ugly Law" disgusts me, yet it was this law that led to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Law of 1990. Yes, 1990! I had no idea that this law was just twenty years old! We live in a fast-paced, ever-changing world, yet the acceptance of those with disabilities just came in 1990?!

I'm incredibly thankful that I received the privilege of becoming Dylan's mama when I did. But while our society is learning that the life of Dylan is indeed valuable, many still question it. I've witnessed their stares...and I've stared right back! The life my family leads makes some people uncomfortable but I welcome it. It's an opportunity to teach. It's an opportunity to see others be challenged and grow. The process isn't fun, but it's something I would be happy to be arrested for any day, any time.

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