Protecting the Rights of People With Disabilities
Sunday, July 26 marks the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. The ADA requires governments and programs on the local, state, and federal levels to be accessible, and that reasonable accommodations and modifications be provided in the workplace, restaurants, stores, public transit, communication, etc.
It’s incomprehensible to me that prior to the ADA‘s implementation basic civil rights like education, housing, and employment, were denied to untold millions of people based solely on their disabilities.
Up until the signing of the ADA in 1990, the fight for equal access was a long and arduous journey. If it weren’t for the many years of unfathomable, grueling work of dedicated change-making activists, the ADA would not exist today.
I find it interesting that as one of the largest minority groups in the U.S., even with the ADA in place, the struggle for equality for people with disabilities is ongoing. Could it be because the majority of us are not, and perhaps never will be affected by disabilities, that the insensitivity and mistreatment of people with disabilities continues?
Nix the Negativity
Dictionary.com defines disability as a physical or mental handicap, especially one that prevents a person from living a full, normal life or from holding a gainful job. Ouch, if I thought the definition hurt here are a few words from the thesaurus: defect, impairment, incompetency, inability, incapacity, detriment. Looking at these words I can’t imagine anyone anxiously awaiting to be identified by any of them.
Our lack of understanding, fear, and inhumanity towards people with disabilities I believe, promotes the continuing injustices. It’s no wonder then, that when a life altering event occurs within our lives which renders us disabled, we have a difficult time adjusting.
Coming face to face with our prejudices, encountering the projected fears placed on us from those without disabilities, then navigating a still-flawed system to protect our new status, the transition can be most difficult. As reasonable thinking individuals, for some of us to admit that we view people with disabilities as defective while at the same time recognizing our intolerance, ignorance, and supposed superiority is a bitter pill to swallow.
Awareness to Understanding to Inclusion to Acceptance
The subject of disability is extremely complex because as many of us know, disabilities are not always physical, mental or visible. Further, for those of us with hidden disabilities throwing in the “do I disclose” or “not disclose” can have many implications.
Though legally we are protected by the law regardless of our choice, if we do not disclose then come up against a situation where open disclosure would have left no room for doubt, this issue becomes complicated. On the flip side if we do disclose we can open ourselves up to the very discrimination that we are protected against.
It’s hard to believe that it was only back in 1986 when the outcome of a report, Toward Independence, indicated federal civil rights legislation was needed to protect people with disabilities. To think it wasn’t that long ago when many people with disabilities were institutionalized, abused, and even and put through forced (eugenics sterilization) procedures is incredible. Forced sterilization by the way continued in the 1990’s through the 2000s (www.ourbodiesourselves.org and Center for Investigative Reporting).
Dehumanizing is the word that comes to mind when I think of the intentional and sometimes unintentional mistreatment of people with disabilities. I’ve had friends who use wheelchairs tell me just how irksome it is when people will not speak with them directly, rather they talk to the person who is with them about them.
Though we have our discriminations what we have to understand is disabilities do not discriminate. They can occur at any point in life, for any reason and can take on many forms including but not limited to psychiatric, physical, learning, blindness and deafness.
The misconceptions concerning disabilities and the limitations placed on people with disabilities abound. If you’ve never seen the movie on the disability movement, Lives Worth Living, I guarantee it will either alter or increase your understanding about disabilities and the people who live with them.
The people in the film are neither defective nor incompetent. They were clearly passionate for change and they made it happen.
Years ago I was thrust into advocacy within the disability arena on behalf of my son and my mother. I never considered at the time that I would one day need to be covered under the ADA but I’ll tell you what, I’m so thankful that it exists.
It’s true, we still have a lot of work yet to do. With the ever evolving advances in technology, we have to be mindful of those who may not have equal access to information; we have to remain vigilant to the point of changing legislation to set new policy direction. Like our predecessors in the film Lives Worth Living we must continue to advance quality of life and equal opportunity for all.
“Acceptance and tolerance and forgiveness, those are life-altering lessons.” ~Jessica Lange