Prior to 1967, if you were physically or visual impaired you had no right to walk down a sidewalk in any United States city. If you were walking on the sidewalk using a white cane, had a service dog, were using a wheelchair or crutches and someone hit and injured you, it was considered your fault and you had no legal right to receive coverage by the driver’s insurance, no right to sue them for damages and they couldn’t be charged with a crime. It was your fault you got hurt because you shouldn’t be out in public in the first place.
In 1967, New Mexico became the first state to take a stand against this blatant civil rights infringement when Governor David Cargo signed the first White Cane Law.
“It is the policy of this state to encourage and enable the blind, the visually handicapped and the otherwise physically disabled to participate fully in the social and economic life of the state and to engage in remunerative employment.” (http://www.cfb.state.nm.us/White%20Cane%20Law.html)
This law served as the model for the eventual adoption of white cane laws in each of the 50 states and represents the groundwork for the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).
While digging through the very sparse information about the Los Lunas Hospital and Training School–an institution for adults and children with disabilities that was shut down by the Jackson Lawsuit–I ran across a website for the Los Lunas Hospital Cemetery. On the website someone had put pictures of the various headstones and each had its own page and a space for visitors to add pictures and more information. One of the first ones that had additional information was this for a baby girl named Shamarie. Her birthday was almost the same as mine but I was instantly gripped with a sadness that our lives had been very different. Her sister had found this site and had reflected that Shamarie was from rural NM and that her mother had never been allowed to hold her. She was born with Spina Bifida and was taken from her parents immediately after birth and flown to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque. She was later placed at the Los Lunas Hospital where she lived out her two short years. Like so many New Mexicans at that time, her parents were too poor and without any resources to make the trip to Los Lunas to see her. She was buried in a peach dress that was donated by a woman in Los Lunas. Shamarie’s sister reflected that this was the great heartbreak of her mother’s life. It makes me aware of the fact that it has never been a question of whether or not I would get to take my baby home. That is the legacy of the NM disability movement–they insured that “we take our babies home.” That is what this project hopes to document and protect for future mothers.
I had the honor and privilege of talking today with Greg Trapp, J.D., Executive Director of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind. One of the more notable facts (and he had many facts!) we talked about today was the fact that the New Mexico state song was written by a woman named Elizabeth Garrett, who was blind.She was also friends with Helen Keller and daughter of Pat Garrett.
“O Fair New Mexico”
Under a sky of azure, where balmy breezes blow,
Kissed by the golden sunshine, is Nuevo México.
Home of the Montezuma, with fiery hearts a glow ,
State of the deeds historic, is Nuevo México.
O, fair New Mexico, we love, we love you so
Our hearts with pride or flow , no matter where we go,
O, fair New Mexico, we love, we love you so,
The grandest state to know, New Mexico.
Rugged and high sierras, with deep canyons below;
Dotted with fertile valleys, is Nuevo México.
Fields full of sweet alfalfa, richest perfumes bestow,
State of the apple blossoms, is Nuevo México.
Days that are full of heart-dreams, nights when the moon hangs low;
Beaming its benediction, o’er Nuevo México.
Land with its bright mañana, coming through weal and woe;
State of our esperanza, is Nuevo México.
Courtesy of the Smithsonian online exhibition “EveryBody: An Artifact History of Disability in America.” One of only three photos I have been able to find of any of the 6 institutions once inhabited by New Mexicans with disabilities. Do you … Continue reading →