This issue of the paper is focusing on the 10th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA has had a dramatic effect on the lives of people with disabilities; it has made our lives a lot easier in many simple and not-so-simple ways.
In my case, I have been a wheelchair user for nearly 33 years. In that time I have watched and experienced the improvement in access for people with disabilities. During the ’70s it was not uncommon for me to be wheeling around downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul and, if I happened to see another person with a disability, I knew who they were by name. There were no official curb cuts; if you wanted to get across the street you needed to go find a driveway, wait for a break in traffic, cross the street, and then wheel a half a block one way or another to get back onto the sidewalk. Bathrooms in public buildings were rarely accessible and there were no accessible bathrooms in any of the public parks that I remember. It was common to find a 2- or 3-inch step threshold into many stores, for no apparent reason. Another big issue was people’s attitudes, towards me and other people with disabilities; it didn’t seem to matter what age you were, you were treated as a child.
In the 80’s, there were some improvements. A few curb cuts started to pop up, in new buildings the bathrooms might be manageable, and you started to see more people with disabilities out and about. By now the disability community had been pushing for better access, and you started seeing some fruit from their labor.
In 1990 the ADA was passed and signed into law by President Bush. It seems to me in the short 10 years since the passage of the ADA we have seen dramatic changes. Curb cuts are everywhere, many places have power door openers, and accessible bathrooms can be found in most places. I know that many of these changes were due to laws that were passed in Minnesota prior to the ADA. A sea change has happened since the passage of the ADA. People with disabilities are being employed in record numbers, and people’s attitudes towards people with disabilities are changing. It’s a slow process, but it is happening. We are no longer looked upon as people who need to be taken care of. The ADA forced people and companies to recognize people with disabilities as people, not as disabilities.
We still have a long way to go and I hope the younger generation of people with disabilities doesn’t take things for granted.
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On July 26th there will be a celebration of the ADA and IDEA (see page 7). This is going to be a great cultural event. There is going to be food, music, art and a great national speaker, Ted Kennedy Jr. Bring the whole family; spend the day celebrating and embracing disability culture.