Editor's Column - July 2010

America’s Independence Day, the Fourth of July, has passed. Hope you had a good one!  Many in the disability community think of personal independence as a primary goal. Of course, I do, too. But I also think improved interdependence might be a much better goal for all. None of us can be truly independent, whether disabled or not. We are social beings and we need companionship. We need the guy who fixes our wheelchair, the woman who drives the bus, the folks who run the grocery stores and our PCAs. We need the social services that our state and national governments offer, like snow removal, streetlights, and police and fire departments, as well as the human services programs for people with disabilities. Just recently we realized how interdependent we are as a society with the banking industry, Wall Street and the oil industry. That’s a good demonstration of our social interdependence. We look around the world and into its past and see how humankind has progressed for thousands of years. That can make us see all of America’s history since the Revolution of only a couple hundred years ago quite differently. So, this Independence Day, I thought about interdependence as well as independence.   

The ADA anniversary celebration is July 26. It’s hard to believe it was 20 years ago that we watched the ADA signed at the White House by President George H.W. Bush, with Justin Dart and Evan Kemp Jr. sitting next to him. Dart and Kemp made the day a reality.   

The ADA covers:   

Title I – Employment: It asserts that employers couldn’t discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability in any employment practices. Later, some of this section or title was found unconstitutional. It was decided that it was unconstitutional to allow states to be sued by private citizens for financial damages.    

Title II – Public Entities: The ADA prohibits disability discrimination by all public entities at the local and state level, including public transportation.   

Title III – Public Accommodations (and commercial facilities): Individuals may not be discriminated against on the basis of disability with regards to the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations of any place.  “Public accommodations” include most places such as inns and hotels, recreation, transportation, education, and dining, along with stores, care providers, and places of public displays, among other things.   

 Title IV – Telecommunications: This section required that all telecommunications companies take steps to ensure functionally equivalent services for consumers with disabilities, notably those who are deaf or hard of hearing and those with speech impairments.   

Title V – Miscellaneous: This section explains that nothing in the ADA overrides or cancels anything in Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It also noted that individuals who exercise their rights under the ADA, or assist others in exercising their rights, are protected from retaliation or coercion, including threats, intimidation, or interference, is prohibited.   

Employment was the first to be challenged and is still the biggest problem for people with disabilities. Employment defines who we are in many situations. When introduced we often asked people what they do, and they answer, “I’m a teacher,” or “I’m an office manager.” People with disabilities are not often asked that defining question, because we’re not expected to be employed. Or if we are, it’s not expected to be meaningful employment.

I’m one of the lucky ones with a job, but still people ask me, after they get over the news that I manage a newspaper, “Oh, do you go into an office?” It’s just assumed that I work at home where I’m sheltered from the hard realities of a real job. People expect that we who have disabilities shouldn’t have to go out into the elements to earn a living.

It’s hard for me to see light at the end of the unemployment tunnel for most people with disabilities. When will it be assumed that we are capable of meaningful employment? Those who are employed are often considered courageous souls who should be praised for something that most in our society routinely do. We know people who have lost jobs during this recession have self-esteem problems or are depressed. Marriages fall apart and lives are ruined due to job loss. What about people with disabilities, who aren’t even expected to get a job, much less lose one? People with disabilities are losing services, and are seen as an economic drain or as a problem needing fixing. For many of us, all we want is a job. Gainful employment would be a really good start for most of us.

Thanks for reading and please fill out the reader survey. I hope you have a good summer. I’ll see you on July 26 at the ADA celebration; don’t forget to come and say hello. It’s an event to plan on, even if you have to take a day off from the job!  n