July 26, 2020 marks thirty years since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed. This law was the first official step in ending discrimination against people with disabilities. In addition to physical accessibility, it guarantees equal opportunity in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications. It gives people who were once excluded a chance at a successful and fulfilling life. Many things have improved in the last thirty years with people’s attitudes and accessibility, and in many ways things still have a long way to go. The Arc Alliance, a self-advocacy group at The Arc of Monroe, recently spoke about what accessibility means to them.
Allen remembers that when the ADA passed, he was in grade school. He saw a difference in how things were before and after. He witnessed attitudes change, as more people began believing in him and offered him more opportunities. Things that other students always had access to, such as taking the SATs and going to college, were now available to him as well. This allowed him to go to college and find fulfilling employment in adulthood.
Jason agreed that attending school and having the tools to complete it successfully had a positive impact on his life. The effort that places put in to accessibility, whether it be in the information they provide or the physical setting they are located in, sends a message of respect and implies that people of all abilities are welcome. Jason makes an effort to spend his money and patronize places that value accessibility.
Reasonable accommodations are modifications or adjustments that a person needs to be successful. These aren’t special privileges, rather they are basic things that give people an opportunity to succeed. Reenie, another member of the Arc Alliance, was able to become successfully involved in her community after requesting interpreters to ensure that those who were deaf and hard of hearing were able to participate in local meetings.
Perhaps the most important part of the ADA is not the regulatory requirements, but the attitude that it represents. It is a conscious effort to make things accessible to everyone. Many buildings and places that we want to historically preserve can still make efforts to have their location and events accessible. Some people go about each day and don’t have to worry about accessibility, but for those who use a wheelchair or have limited mobility, the fear of being stuck somewhere is a constant concern. It is important that we don’t minimize these concerns and continue to provide and enforce accessibility.
Sometimes, accessibility is different depending on the individual and their needs. Doing the bare minimum requirements of the ADA often isn’t enough. Direct support staff at The Arc of Monroe help people with researching places ahead of time, in order to identify any accessibility concerns before going. We need to continue to support places that make an effort to be more accessible and more inclusive.
While we have so much to celebrate, we still have a long way to go in providing people with disabilities the opportunities that everyone else has. It is important that we continue to support businesses and services that prioritize accessibility. We also need to continue to advocate for funding to ensure that programs have what they need to support people with disabilities in choosing where they live, and successfully navigating transportation and employment. And every day, we need to consider ways that we can make our community a more accessible place for everyone.
Members of the Arc Alliance, at the SANYS Conference.