American with Disabilities Act
Twenty five years ago, July 26, the historic Americans With Disabilities Act was signed into law. It was the first federal legislation that broke down the barriers, at least from a physical standpoint, that had served to exclude people because they did things differently from the norm. The law brought to the forefront a consciousness of creating spaces where everyone can access. Wider doorways and wheelchair ramps are some of the mandated changes seen in buildings and curb cuts throughout the country.
The law was a magnificent first step toward change. According to the ADA, no individual shall be discriminated against on the basis of disability in the full and equal participation of goods, services, facilities, privileges, and accommodations.
The thing that I want to remind everyone is that, while laws and these physical changes are important, true inclusion begins and ends with each one of us. Disabilities affect people of all race, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status, and age. Disabilities may be visible or they may be invisible. And disabilities may impact any one of us in any given moment of our lives.
But disabilities do not define people.
Still, people who experience disability are among the most socially and physically isolated. They are more vulnerable as targets of bullying. They are often misunderstood, and their intelligence and feelings very much underestimated.
I have always been someone fully aware of the importance of including and valuing others; however, my work with disability related organizations has heightened my awareness of this impact on individuals and on communities.
I have heard about stories and know people personally who have felt the pain of being excluded, and of not being given the opportunity to realize their full potential. Students who have been admonished by their peers. Parents who have feared adopting from the United States because of policies that could take their child away, for no other reason than their mother and father do things differently. People of working age who want to contribute and are very capable of contributing (not to mention have valuable skills) but are working in a job not up to their abilities because of limitations put on them by others.
But I have also seen the beauty in watching how kids…and adults grow…when they lose sight of each other’s differences and see each other as human beings. All of us, no matter our religion, culture, ethnicity, color or mode of doing, communicating and experiencing things grow when we include each other. We learn to see situations from new perspectives, we appreciate the gifts of our diversity, and together we are capable of accomplishing great things.
In a wonderfully spoken guest editorial to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Kat Lyons, advocacy coordinator for The Center for Independent Living Options Inc., shared, “We (people with disabilities) see ourselves as fully human, with strengths and weaknesses like any human. We know that any human may, in an instant, join our ranks.
We are not unable, just because we are disabled. We are just people, and we’d like to get to know you. We’d like for you to know and include us.”
Instead of simply applauding the ADA on its merits, let us see the ADA as a stepping stone toward a world of togetherness for all of us, a world that is better because we are a part of it.