Fourteen Congolese disabled activists and social entrepreneurs discussed Joseph Shapiro’s history of the Americans with Disabilities Act,No Pity on October 30 at the embassy’s Information Resource Center. The book’s French translation version (Rien que nos droits) was the perfect program tool for a look at the rights of disabled citizens in a democratic society.
No Pity documents how U.S. disability rights’ activists overcame legal and social challenges in the 20th century as they claimed their right to live as ordinary people. The book describes how disabled freedom fighters overturned barriers and pushed aside long held prejudices that had kept them out of sight and/or confined in institutions. The book is a testimonial to the courage of persons with disabilities overcoming almost insurmountable odds to achieve their goal – to be given the same opportunities as others and to be treated like everyone else in their personal and professional lives.
During the three hour program, participants shared the challenges and frustrations they deal with on a daily basis as disabled Congolese. For them, simple matters like getting into buildings or going around town can be complicated or impossible to do with any kind of dignity. Nothing is easy or taken for granted. Many participants shared that the experiences of Americans with disabilities described in Shapiro’s book were similar to their own.
The session ended with a call for a similar program at the embassy on December 3, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, the distribution of additional copies of No Pity to each participant to share with their friends, and a general consensus that if the group joined forces they could become a more effective network of advocates for persons with disabilities. As one activist noted, “We need to share what we have discussed today with more people, we need to sensitize the public to these issues, and if we work together, our voices will be heard.”