To the Editor:

These are some of the toughest times that most of us will live through. In the last 70 days in the United States, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that disability and illness can be a common experience for all parts of society. We have seen first-hand evidence of how fragile organized society can be. The events of this last week show us how prevalent racism still is, further straining the bonds of our society. Society’s expectation and acceptance of the use of force by the government to resolve interactions with people from minority communities, including people with disabilities, displays how our ancestor’s aspiration of diversity, equity and inclusion have not yet been achieved.

The purpose of the Protection and Advocacy, or P&A, System has always been about working with people with disabilities to support their opportunity to live, work, recreate and enjoy the protections provided by an organized society. Disability Rights South Dakota is the P&A agency in South Dakota that was specifically created to address issues related to abuse, neglect and rights violations of people with disabilities. The work of the agency is based on the belief that all people deserve respect, dignity and self-determination. The disability rights movement is inseparable from the human rights movements for racial, economic and gender equality.

It is important that we do not allow outside entities to control our thoughts and actions to drive further divisions between us. Doing so allows us to assume that someone else has the answer to the changes that need to be made today. The changes that need to be made to repair the divide are personal to each of us. We must look within ourselves, to the parts of our lives that are under our influence and control, to end divisiveness and discrimination in all forms. We each have in us the ability to bring about the affirmative change that we are seeking and the change that we all need. Let us be kind, let us have open ears, minds and hearts and let us embrace our own change.

Tim Neyhart

Disability Rights South Dakota

Pierre