The end of this month marks the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Sources in the Public Insight Network share how this legislation has had an impact on their lives, and what issues still need to be addressed.
Equal treatment, doesn't mean preferential treatment
Brienna Herold -- Spring Valley, Wis.
I was born two years after the ADA passed. I've lived my entire life with a law guaranteeing equal rights, however, when I visited Paris two years ago with a school group, I noticed there is indeed a huge difference having and not having the ADA. In France, deaf people are not treated equally. Museums would actually let us in free of charge once they discovered we were deaf. It was as if they doubted our ability to understand anything in the museum.
To those Parisians, deafness still meant you were dumb. One museum even opened up on a day it was supposed to be closed, and we received a private tour. If we had been hearing, we would not have been treated like this. In America, the law doesn't let you be treated differently. (Of course, we are still treated differently due to our differences, but hey, we receive equal rights now.) In fact, I am surprised by the amount of people at restaurants who will not hesitate to rip off a piece of paper from the register for me to write my order on. From what I've heard about life before the ADA, I believe that a lot has changed for the better.
Still have to push enforce rights
Candace Lindow-Davies -- Eagan, Minn.
I have a son who is deaf. I cannot imagine what challenges people who are deaf or hard of hearing had to face prior to ADA. Now, I have the luxury of simply helping organizations and businesses to do the right thing by following ADA law and providing my son access through interpreters, captioning, and the like.
Access does not mean equal access. My son has to wait to see the latest films released, and often doesn't participate in really cool community events because the battle for access is more exhausting and time consuming than it should be. As a parent, you can only push so many times and then your attention has to go to other issues. And I know that adults who are deaf and hard of hearing have to push every day to just enforce their legal rights. God Bless them all.
Interpreters, accommodations cost money
Jason Valentine -- Minneapolis
The ADA has helped me get through school with interpreters, notetakers, CART services, and placing the responsibility on the institution for providing these services. If it weren't for the ADA I would not be able to get the education I did. As a chemical dependency counselor for the Deaf/Hard of Hearing, I have noticed numerous barriers related to treatment centers, access to 12-Step meetings, service providers using outdated modes of communication, and a lack of understanding of the responsibilities to obtain accommodations for consumers.
Frequently people who come into our services have experienced other locations not providing interpreters, not knowing where to find accommodations, facilities providing TTY's when no one the consumer knows has one because they're all using videophones, and feelings of isolation amongst hearing peers in treatment. The biggest barrier I see is money. People are resistant to providing services because they cost money that in this economy, businesses just don't have. Twelve-step meetings don't have the money to provide for interpreters for many meetings, non-profits struggle with finding room in their budgets to provide accommodations, and specialized programs like ours have closed down across the country due to lack of funding.
Employment is still a struggle
Tim Sireno -- Hugo, Minn.
It depends on the employer. In some cases, the ADA has caused some employers to become apprehensive when they hear I'm hard of hearing. But for the most part, it's helped clear the air by making clear what behavior is expected, both from the employer and the employee. But unfortunately, the ADA hasn't changed the higher unemployment rate of deaf and hard of hearing, particularly because it doesn't change the core attitude that employers seem to have - to put it bluntly, they consider such individuals "a pain in the butt." And not surprisingly, some of these individuals still discriminate in ways that aren't directly covered by the ADA. And that's unfortunate, because all we're looking for is fair shake, considering how much we have to work harder just to approach the standard of "normal."
ADA hasn't had major impact
Phil Kitchen -- Edina, Minn.
I am now retired, but 20 years ago I was employed by a fraternal benefit society in their IT department. Shortly after the ADA was passed, my employer purchased improved computer screen reading technology which was required for me to do my job. Up to that point, I had purchased all of my own adaptive equipment, or it had been purchased by the state rehabilitation agency. Other than that initial effect, for me as a blind person, outside of seeing more Braille menus in some restaurants, I don't feel that the ADA has had a major affect on my life.
Accessibility and baseball
Michael Sack -- Minneapolis
I was born on January 5, 1990 at Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. I was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy almost right away. I am 20 years old now and use a motorized wheelchair. Since the ADA passed, a lot of buildings have become more accessible. They have added elevators, ramps, curb cuts, and handicap buttons to buildings. Also, parks have become much more accessible by adding concrete paths and ramps for wheelchairs. Sports facilities have become ADA approved, including Target Field and TCF Bank Stadium. Yes, I have been affected by the passing of the ADA. When I went to a Twins game at the HHH Metrodome, I didn't have a good experience because the bars were to high and people would walk in front of me. Ever since Target Field was built, I have had a much better experience. I can now take more then one friend to a Twins game and the bars are low enough for me to see the action.
You can read Michael Sack's, 20, and Sam Graves', 16, blog on accessibility in baseball at "Two Men On"
Onus is still on the individual
Joyce Peltzer -- Cottonwood
I am a post-polio survivor who walked with a brace and crutches for 42 years, until my shoulders wore out (arthritis) and I had to have a left shoulder replacement. Then I transitioned to another level of disability, using a wheelchair for all mobility. I did attend Minnesota Disability meetings on the State level and individually have been advocating for myself and others everywhere I go as a consumer. The ADA needs updating on a national level, with penalties if not followed. I am tired of civil rights legislation that puts the responsibility on the one being discriminated against to take action through agencies that underfunded and do not have adequate funding to staff properly.
No longer institutionalized
JoAnna Harris -- St. Paul
A lot has changed. I am a parent of a spunky three year old girl name Fiona. Fiona has Down Syndrome. If I would have had Fiona 20 years ago it may have been suggested that we place Fiona in an institution. Almost all institutions now are closed! Fiona might not have attended school and they probably would not have attempted to teach her to read or write. Fiona most definitely would not have been mainstreamed in school. ADA has opened up new opportunities and shown society that people with different abilities are successful and contributing members within our communities.
Employment partnerships ending
Sareen Keenan -- Minneapolis
My sister has profound disabilities. I have worked with her and others as a job coach, transitional coordinator, vocational coordinator and peer. I have seen the change from sweat shop, conveyor belt type work where people might receive a lifetime placement to a young lady who now has a resume longer then mine. I have assisted people to find meaningful independent community work that enhances the day-to-day experience of the company. However, the economy hit this area very hard. Companies who previously had long standing positions with disabled adults ended their partnerships just recently.
Faith communities still have work to do
Shelly Christensen -- Plymouth
I work with Jewish communities across the country to create strategic inclusion plans for synagogues, agencies and organizations. This is a key issue in many faith communities now. Without the ADA, I fear that many people with disabilities would not even have an open door in which to pass, let alone attend the community of their choice.
Involving people with disabilities in meaningful ways is becoming a way of life in many congregations. Families are finding more supports, and lifelong involvement is becoming a hallmark requisite. The ADA provides a moral mandate for inclusion, and the ADA provides the guidelines--even though faith communities are not covered under the ADA. The ADA has helped us recognize the humanity that each person possesses.
Technology has opened doors
Kevin Kern -- Minnetonka
The impact that the ADA has had on access technology has radically changed my professional life. Living on the cutting edge of accessibility solutions for blind people, especially musicians and composers like myself, has literally made my career possible. Without this new technology, I would not be able to enjoy the independence that making a living provides everyone else. I use a computer outfitted with a screen reader along with specially adapted versions of notation and recording software.
Years ago, I spoke with engineers at IBM who felt there was "no money" in serving this market. Back then I guess my money didn't look as green as it does today. Today in addition to these advancements, companies like Apple, with their VoiceOver screen reader have made even "touch screen" devices, once thought absolutely inaccessible to the blind, all but effortless to use. Apps like AroundMe help to make me more independent in my everyday life. Like you, we can now put the world in our pocket at a price we can afford. Devices for the disabled have been known to be large, cumbersome and cost-prohibitive.
Barriers now stem from ignorance
Gregory Schleifer -- Roseville
I became disabled within the 20-year period that the ADA has been in effect. I went from being oblivious to the needs of the handicapped to living them. I have come to appreciate simple things like curb cuts, and more major things like wheelchair accessible rest rooms. I now have a car, the controls of which I can control with my hands. I can go to malls and theaters without worrying whether I can get there. Servers at restaurants seldom get flustered when I ask for a table to which I can roll up. Just about any public building now has access. The City Council where I live (Roseville) is very receptive to requests for modifications and has always been very helpful when I have brought up barriers I have encountered. Many barriers now are no longer institutional, but stem from ignorance or simply not paying attention.
Access to the arts still a challenge
Peter Flick -- Winona
Ten years ago I became disabled. The culprit: multiple sclerosis. I use a manual wheelchair, lightweight, so as to keep as strong as I can. Needless to say, every curb ramp, every barrier free access, every handicapped parking spot gives me pause to be grateful for the ADA. As those of my generation and the baby boom generation age, they will also be appreciative of the act. However there are still venues which have barriers to access and I find that very frustrating. I see barriers in the access to the arts. Older theaters and arts venues have stairs and need funds to make the changes to provide access. Most businesses have worked hard to provide access, however those business with historic significance often have barriers to access.
Perception still needs to change
Beverly Stone -- Brooklyn Park
I did contact congressmen and senators to help get the ADA passed because I thought it brought fairness to an entire segment of the population. At the time, I was perfectly healthy. I have since become disabled, and, for the first time in my life, something I actually worked to change has benefited me. I am very grateful for every elevator and handicapped parking spot out there. However, this is a society of perception-based reality. Until handicapped people are perceived as capable of working, nothing will change.
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