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Observing 25 Years of the ADA

Protecting the Rights of People With Disabilities

15999939-equal-opportunitiesSunday, 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?

Icon of a person walking with a white cane

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.

International Symbol of Accessibility Icon of a person in a wheelchair in motion
The Accessible Icon Project

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.

Pushing Forward

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

 

10 thoughts on “Observing 25 Years of the ADA

  1. […] Observing 25 Years of the ADA – Bold Blind Beauty […]

  2. We never know where life is taking us. You had no idea you would be needing the ADA. If anyone had asked me even 20 years ago where I’d be . . .wait, I had to think about that. Where was I? I had just quit dancing in strip joints. I quit on my 40th birthday. Yep – I’ve had quite an unusual life. Also, that year I stopped shooting pool. I had a circuit of clubs I played. But at 40 I “settled down” and became “normal”. ( That was probably my mistake! )

  3. Thanks for checking with the dictionary. The language issues are very telling about the extent that people with disabilities have been accepted into society.

    It might be instructive to look at a 1991 Louis Harris poll, conducted at the dawn of the ADA. The National Organization on Disability (NOD) commissioned them to determine what America really thought about people with disabilities. The survey summary states, “The public views disabled people as fundamentally different than the rest of the population, feeling admiration and pity most often. Embarrassment, apathy and fear are also common.”

    Oddly, though you are right that most of us won’t ever face disability as a personal reality, most of the people who are now doing so grew up “able-bodied.” It’s a situation that doesn’t happen with most minorities, and one would think that would have made it more likely that the general society would embrace this difference and accept us for the people we are, but it hasn’t.

    1. Thank you Donna. I’m going to look up the 91 Louis Harris poll.

      1. Steph, If you find a link, let me know. I got it from a NOD publication called “That All May Worship” that I used when I put together my booklet “Unopen Gifts: Tales Out of School,” which was a guide to congregations seeking to become more welcoming to people with disabilities. I had received a grant from the Lutheran Brotherhood (now called Trident for Lutherans, I think) to put it together for the national women’s convention of the ELCA. I’ve never been able to find it online.

        _____

      2. Donna, I found several links but this one appears to have more data from the poll than the other ones I seen. http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/1992-01-09/news/9201070121_1_people-with-disabilities-disabilities-act-putting-disabled

  4. I know laws are necessary, but it is sad to me that our world even needed something like your country’s ADA in the first place.
    Sure there are laws, but things still don’t feel all that evolved to me. I try to be optimistic.
    I have not seen that movie, but will have to check it out. This issue gets me so upset a lot of the time. Writing helps me get those feelings out, but I still feel helpless and scared.
    I hope to see a lot more change and improvement over the remainder of my own lifetime.
    It can happen to anyone, you are right, and that fear keeps most people in denial. Feeling invisible isn a nice place to be, laws or no laws.

    1. You are so right Kerry. When I was writing this I was thinking that in an ideal world there would be no need for such laws. And even though we have the law it still gets broken or people find ways around it. 70% is the unemployment rate within the blind community even with the law – shameful.

    2. If you have the chance check out the documentary it’s so powerful but at the same time sad that it even had to take place.

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