John Smith is a longtime champion of the self-advocacy movement, and a coordinator at the Institute on Community Integration at the University of Minnesota. In this February 2015 interview, he shared some of his thoughts about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and its importance in his life. Video clips of the interview are online at http://www.selfadvocacyonline.org/stories
Q: What difference has the ADA made in your life?
A: The ADA gives assurances, gives me assurances, that when I go out to a restaurant I’ll be able to get in the door. It gives me assurances that when I go out to a job interview that I’ll have a shot at being considered. It also means that once I get that job I have a right to ask for the things that I need to succeed. The ADA also helps me notice when I’m being discriminated against – we’re not there yet (meaning, the ADA has not ended disability discrimination). But because of the ADA, discrimination based on disability status now sticks out like a sore thumb. The lack of a wheelchair ramp in a public place now sticks out like a sore thumb. If I apply for a job and if I get asked about my disability in inappropriate ways, it now sticks out like a sore thumb. I have a right, because of the ADA, to say something or to step back again and say, “You know what? I’m out of here.” So the ADA has made me aware, our communities aware, and our nation aware that people with disabilities belong, they have rights.
Q: The ADA was passed 25 years ago. Is it still important today?
A: The ADA is still really important. We’re going to need it in the future because the world’s changing all the time and people with disabilities continue to face discrimination in ways that the folks who wrote the ADA, and advocated for the ADA, couldn’t imagine. I know that I, as a person with a disability, am going to want to go on and keep adventuring and trying all kinds of new stuff, new kinds of adventures, and I’m going to need the ADA there to protect me as I go on and do the things that everyone else does. As an example, the ADA was passed in 1990, and in 1990 I had never been on the Internet. I didn’t own a computer, so I couldn’t have cared less about the ADA talking about computer access. But today it’s absolutely critical that people with disabilities are accommodated and are able to have full access to that. I have no idea what the future holds and what the opportunities are going to be 25 years from now, and that’s exactly why we need the ADA and its broad, but beautiful, language that says people with disabilities are part of a community, and have a right to everything the community has to offer.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: The ADA is a civil rights act, and I like the fact that it’s modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned discrimination based on race. I like the idea that the ADA bonds people with disabilities together with all those other groups of people who face discrimination. And I like the idea that the ADA is about all people with disabilities. The ADA was passed because the entire disability coalition had to come together and fight together to get it passed. That was a new thing for people with physical disabilities to sit down with folks with intellectual disabilities, and people who had mental health disabilities, and say: “You know, we’re all in this together. We’ve got to fight together. And we’ve got to fight for each other.” I think it’s cool the ADA is about everyone.
Reprinted with permission.