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Edward V. Roberts
Singapore, December 1981

As I look out across this audience and see the many friends I've had a chance to meet, from Japan, Europe, and around the world, I feel a tremendous sense of pride. Pride in being disabled. Seeing these friends and the determination of all of us to set ourselves free and to free the millions, the hundreds of millions, of people with disabilities, I feel very warm and close to all of you. To think that as we speak together, there's an international language, a feeling that we have something very important here—a worldwide movement that will set the course of history in a way that helps everyone in this world achieve his right to be a part of each and every society, that together we are growing stronger and stronger, that we have much work to do.

I do not see many people here who represent mental disabilities, like the retarded, but they are our brothers and sisters, and we must in each of our movements bring all people with disabilities together. That is our strength. Our strength is not in economic resources or physical prowess. Our strength is in numbers. We have the ability in each of our countries to make a difference in the lives of people with disabilities. We can do that together. We can stand together or apart we can fall. We are beyond the time when we will accept charity, the old attitudes of patronization, of being patted on the head and told, "There, there, I know it's tough". You bet it's tough. But we've learned how strong we are and that our disabilities have not made us weak but in fact have challenged us to the point of making us very strong. We have much to learn from each other and much to teach each other. Each of our countries has something that we are doing that we need to talk about. We need to exchange information, to learn the best of what's going on around the world. We must not, as developed nations, western nations, perpetuate the old laws of segregation. Segregation is the antithesis of freedom. If we are to be free, then we must be a part of our society and have an opportunity to participate in each and


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every aspect of our society: the political aspect, social aspect, or sexual aspect. People around the world traditionally have seen us as weak and unable. In a sense that gives us a strength over them. Because while they're seeing us as weak and unable, we're going to be very assertive and get just what we want from them. We need to learn how to use those old stereotypes of weakness. The women's movement in my country learned very well how to use the stereotypes of femininity and weakness. We need to learn from these movements that preceded us and how we as individuals who are very strong and perceived as weak can use that perception politically and socially to open our societies up. Our strength is our unity. Not only within our countries but around the world. As we fight together, as we gain strength and recognition for that strength, we are going to see one of the most massive social changes this world has ever seen.

When I was 14, I got polio. My biggest fear was "what's going to happen when my parents die". I had an incredible feeling of dependence. With my mother's help, I overcame that feeling. Families are critical to the whole development process. We must not forget how important they are. We must educate parents to let their children take risks, teach them that there's tremendous dignity in learning how to take risks.

I remember I was very young and very afraid to go outside. I was afraid people would stare at me and see me as some kind of freak or very different. Finally, after four years, I had to go out. I went out, and I found out sure enough, people stared at me. But I found I had a choice. I found out I kind of liked it. In a sense, it was like being a star. Each of us in our own way is a star. Each of us has a choice as to how we accept or reject views that society projects on us. We reject the old attitudes. We rebuild new attitudes of strength, commitment, and ability.

When I was 14, totally paralyzed, and in an iron lung, the doctor turned to my mother and said, "Well, you might as well forget it.


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No matter what happens, your son will be a vegetable for the rest of his life". I'm real proud today to appear before you as a green pepper, or a carrot, or whatever vegetable you like. I'm here. Many of you can relate similar stories. What's happening, I think, is that those of us who are the vegetables of the world are uniting, and we are rising up, and we are not going to stand to be second class citizens. We are going to take our place whether we have to roll over people or around them or convince them to join us. There's so much we have to learn together and so much we can do together. At the next Congress, I want to see every nation involved. I expect every nation to be involved. I expect that within the next few years we will create together the most important social revolution this world has ever seen. When we bring that severely and profoundly retarded person, or that severely physically disabled person, back into our society, remove him from institutions, help the family allow the person to take the risk to be free, we will together have created a new world. One that is based on human rights. We will do that together.

I have no doubt that the next ten years are going to be among the most exciting times in this field of disability and together, and I mean together, we will change this world. We will create a place where people who are different are valued and are valued for their differences. Because our differences and our diversity enrich us all. There is a future for everyone, and together we must create that future. If that means fighting, we will fight. If that means convincing people, we will convince them. If that means changing attitudes, we will change attitudes. We will work toward changing each other, freeing each other, and in our struggle, we achieve freedom. It won't be easy. In many nations, it will be very difficult. But it's not different in Zimbabwe or the United States. The same old attitudes are there. Together we will become independent, and we will create our own programs. We will speak for ourselves, and we will be listened to. We will be regarded as powerful individuals in our societies. Political figures will come to us for


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support. We will educate each other and the public. We'll share the best from our countries, not segregation, but integration and involvement. That's the promise of DPI, the promise of the future of freedom for all of us. That's what we will work for, that's why we're here, and I'm proud to be with you.