Wednesday, April 23, 2014

After the article

TOK.FM  the website counterpart of Poland's popular talk radio  published an article about me over the holidays. It's based on the interview I gave the station's shockjockey earlier this year. The publication was delayed by the  still developing situation in Ukraine. As the broadcaster shares an owner with the country's most read newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, for the most of Easter Monday my picture graced the top story spot on, the publisher's portal. My blog registered over a thousand additional views, directed from the article, a friend from Warsaw University wrote to me after ten years of no contact and random strangers begun commenting on my story. Many were positive. Some extended congratulations, few said they admire me, someone called me a real man. I'm not to be admired. I was clear from the get go, that I'm a product of circumstances- from my parents hard work on me from birth to our ability to afford sending me to study abroad. I've never said that my path should be emulated. My choices are my choices and my story is just that- my story. Still, I take some credit for being were I am today. When criticism started, it was ruthless. And completely missed the point of the article. One user wrote: Is this your idea of what disabled people can do? Not everybody can afford it! That's was not my point at all. I'm not saying anyone should move. I wouldn't move either if I had more opportunities back home. Somebody else said: If it wasn't for your parents you'd be just like other disabled on welfare without perspectives, to which I may ask, why are they without perspectives? Another commented :"All he did was study, he may be intelligent, but not the most intelligent". A funny thing to read from a person who never met me. In the interview I made great efforts to point out that I don't feel better than anyone else and given similar opportunities to work, move about and socialize I would never leave Poland. Still, some think I spoke out of line. So let me be direct to those who missed the issue: Why can't Poland create a more inclusive society? Disability has been a talking point back home for the last 25 years, but not much was happening.  What's this thing that separates Poland from the US? It's a country like any others. I assure you, we don't drink liquid gold and bathe in milk and honey here. But we have better laws. Keep in mind that Americans with Disabilities Act is a fairly new body of law. We're looking at a 24 year history. Buildings were not adapted over night or demolished to accommodate wheelchairs. It's  a process and an ongoing one- further measures were introduced as early as 2008. Inclusion, accessibility and awareness were not always a part of American legacy. But they did it. It was less about the cost and more about introducing harsh regulations and standards  in many areas of activity in one uniform act and strict enforcement . The text was meant as a comparison piece- while in Poland i'm marked as permanently unable to work in the US I'm functional and practicing in a high end profession. I'm sorry that /I chose one over the other. I don't think the article was written to praise me or paint me as "brave" but to ask what is wrong with a country that doesn't create equal opportunities? That prefers a monthly payout over leveling the plane. It's about laws. It's about recognizing the needs of a community, it's about awareness and public interest.

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