Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 25 Years Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) , 10 Years
This month, we are celebrating two historic legislative actions concerning people with disabilities. IDEA changed the way people with disabilities were treated in the school system. This Act made it possible for children to have equal access to education. The ADA has had a dramatic effect on American society. It has changed the way people view disability and it has improved the lives of people with disabilities.
For this article, we asked people in the community to provide us with their personal stories of how ADA and IDEA have impacted their lives.
A Sense of Being Ordinary
By Rachel Parker
How would you feel if you got onto an elevator and none of the buttons were labeled? That sense of astonished disbelief is what I feel now when I get into the occassional elevator that has no braille numbering. Ten years ago, I would have been surprised to find elevators which did have such markings. I would have to visit each floor on a personal quest or wait for someone to come and assist me. It’s the wonderful sense of being ordinary that ADA access is bringing to me now.
Another way that the ADA has changed my life is in increasing access to the arts. I have helped develop programs for audio description in local theaters and guided tactile tours in area museums. When my vision loss began to develop into legal blindness, I stopped going to theaters, art galleries, and museums. This had been such an important part of my life that I felt as if part of me were missing. Now my problem is to decide which audio-described performances I can afford to attend. What a wonderful dilemma!
My social life has expanded because I can attend more activities with my friends who use wheelchairs. Their greater access has also enriched my enjoyment. I can communicate with deaf friends or colleagues through the relay service. And so my life has opened to another culture and to new experiences. I can listen to the newspaper over the phone and use a talking computer to gain access to information and greater productivity at my job. I can’t wait for the next ten years.
Rachel Parker is an advocate and works at PACER Center.
Improved Access Makes Life Easier
By Margo Imdieke-Cross
Think back – say maybe 10, 15, 20 years. For those of us who do remember, life in a wheelchair was damn hard. I have countless memories of no curb cuts, entrances with steps, barriers everywhere and, of course, no accessible public restrooms anywhere! Oh, you think I exaggerate! I do not! I seriously mean there were no accessible public restrooms, not in small town America where I grew up nor in South Minneapolis where I spent my summers.
Even marginally accessible restroom stalls, the old 3 footers, weren’t required by building code until the early 70’s and then only in new construction or structural renovations. So those of us who lived in the pre-ADA days know that many of our activities were cut short, cancelled, or never planned because the thought of not being able to use a restroom was unacceptable.
One incident of long ago that stands out in my memory turned a very simple act into a frightful experience . It was a hot, humid summer evening and, with two of my friends, I decided to go to a Mexican Restaurant on Lake Street. We walked over, had a delightful dinner and cut the evening short, because as usual the restrooms weren’t even a little accessible and it felt like my bladder was about to burst. On the way home I decided I couldn’t wait and the three of us strolled over to an area that had several very large bushes. I pulled up between two of the bushes with two friends standing guard. Suddenly the friend closest to me started to scream. She grabbed my wheelchair and started pushing me away from the bushes. Mind you, I’m still zipping up my jeans, and I have no idea what’s going on. As my friends are running, screaming and pushing me away from the bushes, I gather through incoherent sentences that there was an older rather disheveled man watching me from under the bush closest to me.
In my opinion, the biggest impact the Americans with Disabilities Act has had on my personal life is access. By requiring curb cuts, access to entrances, access to businesses, opened doors, in particular restroom doors, the ADA has made my life a whole lot easier. I haven’t had to look for a big bush in a long time!
Margo Imdieke-Cross is an activist and works at the State Council on Disability.
ADA Ten Years Later
By Lee Perish
There has actually been progress made in the past ten years in the areas of physical and sensory/communication accessibility. Ten years ago, when I wanted to go to a legislative session and testify about any laws that I thought needed my input; I would have had to pay for the interpreter. When I needed to see a doctor, it was not required for the hospital or clinic to provide sign language interpreter services. When I wanted to sue the doctor for malpractice and hire a lawyer I would have been required to pay for the sign language interpreter also. Now, I can go to a legislative session, doctor, or lawyer and receive services on equal basis as a hearing person (for the most part). ADA has always been beneficial in the area of social and recreational activities. Theaters, concerts and dance performances are now offering sign language interpreted performances. These are just a few examples of how important it is to have the ADA on the books and enforced for the deaf and hard of hearing.
In Minnesota, we had the MN Relay Service set up a few years before ADA became a law to provide telecommunications access for the deaf and hard of hearing. But many other states had nothing to offer to their citizens in the way of telecommunications access between the deaf and the hearing world. We previously depended on the kindness of strangers, friends, and family members including very young children. This in many cases was not a workable solution. Before the MN Relay Service was set up in MN or when I went to a different state, I had no option but to rely on someone to make my calls for me. It was a demeaning, frustrating, impractical way of having a life or even controlling my life.
The ADA has improved my life not only on the communications level, but also with physical accessibility. Each improvement made on a building, giving more and more people access to whatever services are available in that building, not only is a “good thing” for a person with a disability but also for those without disabilities. Our society can no longer afford to exclude people with disabilities from becoming active members of our society. Each person no matter what his or her disability status is or lack of status must have access. We need to participate in the decision making process and ADA is a powerful law for people with disabilities to use to make those decisions. As the old saying goes-“The world is run by those that show up.” We need to take advantage of this opportunity and show up. And we can do so using ADA.
Lee Perish is an advocate and activist who works for the Hearing and Service Dogs of Minnesota
By Linda Wolford
The major difference I noticed after the ADA was passed is related to access. Suddenly, there were power door openers appearing all over, access symbol signs displayed at businesses, schools,etc. and disability parking spaces that had aisles that were wide enough for me to actually get out of my van! Also movie theatres started doing a better job of leaving spaces for people in wheelchairs so I didn’t have to sit in an aisle at a downhill slant. Access definitely got better and became more visible, which allows me to feel less like a second-class citizen. Suddenly, it seemed like we mattered.
Linda Wolford is an activist and works at Courage Center.
Life Before IDEA
By Virginia Richardson
Parents of children with disabilities may be tempted to take for granted the education rights granted their children through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Parents raising children with disabilities in the 1950’s, ’60’s, and early ’70’s. however, cannot forget how special education worked-or didn’t work-back then.
Virginia Richardson, parent training manager at PACER Center, Inc. recalls the experiences of her daughter, Deborah, now in her 40’s:
“My daughter Deborah, who has mental retardation and epilepsy, received special education before special education laws were passed. We felt fortunate that our school district offered services. Nevertheless, what was available left much to be desired.
Four things stand out in my memory about those times:
1) Deborah attended school in a regular classroom just through the first grade. She was included only because the principal gave permission and a first grade teacher allowed Deborah to be in her class. Much to the amazement of all, Deborah learned to read in that class.
2) Classrooms for students with special needs were always in the basements of the schools that Deborah attended. We know that classes for special needs students in other schools during those years were sometimes held in janitor’s closets or other “extra” rooms.
3) Although the school knew that my husband and I wanted to be involved in Deborah’s education, it conducted meetings about her education without including us. There were no laws to protect our desire and right to participate.
4) Most of Deborah’s teachers seemed to teach to the lowest level of understanding, with no individualization of student need or expectation that the student could succeed. Deborah often complained the teachers assigned her “baby math.”
We worked hard to obtain education opportunities for Deborah. Because there were no special education laws, however, we were not always successful. Those were definitely not the ‘Good Old Days!'”
Today Deborah shares a Minneapolis apartment with another woman. She works three days a week at Select Care, if her seizure level allows.
Virginia Richardson is a parent and works at PACER Center.