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Gary C. Norman: Landmarks that offer inspiration, guidance

Gary C. Norman

Gary C. Norman

Whenever blind people match with a new partner to begin training, they learn that every day is an opportunity for greatness or failure. Early victories, such as finding a coffeehouse when end route during the residential training phase at guide dog school, serves as a reminder of the wonders, the adventures of life. So, certainty exists in the midst of uncertainty.

Postmaster General Benjamin Franklin reminds us, in a 1789 epistolary, that change comprises the status quo. What a great word, epistolary.  It seems disappointing that our modern form of epistolary, email or Twitter, and sometimes the public officials who use these tools, do not often have this wisdom. In these uncertain times, we focus on the certainty of law (as well as the hope and resiliency of intrepid canvassers) to improve our republic for the positive.

Any column at this time surely must note the coronavirus and, by extension, the influenza pathogen of 1918 — regrettably known as the Spanish flu. (Of concern, of course, is that our current president has coined this as the Chinese flu.)

Americans are more diverse than in 1918. And for our state of health as Americans, our current health care system has tools of which the 1918 virus combaters could have only dreamed, including anti-viral therapies and that icon of medicine — blood pressure cuffs. To honor our long-distant 1918 fatalities and survivors, it would behoove us to be hopeful and to be resilient in taking stock of how far we, as Americans, have advanced since then, including in terms of our civil rights.


Two landmarks

Specifically, Americans should recall two anniversaries of landmark legislative achievements, if for no other reason, to honor the men and women and their hope and resiliency that resulted in the laws’ enactment. Americans are the better for their toil, and in some cases, literal blood, sweat, and tears.

The 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment to the Constitution providing women with the right to vote continues to be a timely issue, with another state ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. This July, we will celebrate The 30th anniversary of a law that affects me personally, the Americans with Disabilities Act.

My three guide dogs have been intrepid friends of the land, the air and even the sea. To survive these dark times, I think of my past trips, such as with my second partner, Pilot, to Ireland. And by extension, I reflect on the words of Edmund Burke that basically good men ( and now women) would allow evil to flourish if they did nothing.

With civil society seemingly catching up with a new century — albeit it under difficult circumstances —  this seems an important occasion to note that technology can be a unifying tool for all. For those who do not have disabilities and daily draw their sword or rather draw their iPhone against the commute, technology helps them check in with the office during the virus and earn a paycheck – a great thing for those of us who have those incessant eaters called pets. For the disabled, including me, it means the difference between accessing a job or even traveling via Lyft.

As jurisdictions do their best to preserve our republican traditions while keeping people safe, public officials and the boards of election they lead should recall the price to participate in elections paid by civil rights supporters of the past. Whether in the face of viral disease, such as the Spanish flu, or the disease of public resistance to positive change, both women and those with disabilities paid the price.

Here, as with keeping a job, technology can address the situation. As someone who has worked on the right to vote of the disabled, I’ve always been perplexed by the resistance to incorporating modern technology into voting.

The solution to the legitimate concerns brought on by the virus has seemingly devolved to mailing paper ballots, which will inherently be inaccessible to many people with and without disabilities. If we cannot accept the use of computers for voting – which came about in part because of the Help American Vote Act — I wonder, if we could not at least adopt that antique tool, the telephone, to vote.

At some point, I will make remarks at the next gala of the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights that honors these two anniversaries. It is important to honor strong women with disabilities – sometimes called a group of doubly disabled persons because they experience discrimination based on disability and based on sex and gender.

Let us not forget the path our fellow Americans traveled before us so we can learn from the past and protect our expanding circle of diversity and freedoms.

Gary C. Norman, Esq. LL.M. serves as the chair of the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights. He can be reached at