Friday, 27 July 2012

Happy Belated Birthday to the Americans with Disabilities Act!

I couldn't get to the blog yesterday to write about this when the official celebrations were going on. However, I also didn't feel that I could let it go by unnoted here that yesterday that Americans with Disabilities Act turned 22.  And I'm a little hard on the United States in this blog sometimes - let's give it some credit where it's due. The fact that the US has had  such comprehensive  and constantly evolving federal legislation in place to protect the rights and freedoms of people with disabilities is a totally awesome for twenty years is awesome. Go America!

Learning about the Americans with Disabilities Act

I didn't know much about the Americans with Disabilities Actuntil I started writing this blog. For someone who's involved with disability activism, I still know appalling little about its history. I took a bit of time this morning to go over that history, with the help of this site out of Georgetown Law School: Admittedly, it looks like it's only been maintained until approximately mid-2009, but I got a good picture from it and some places to go for further research.

The Americans With Disabilities Act: The Important Themes Haven't Changed

I was struck by this sentence on Georgetown's website: "In 1990, after several rounds of negotiations and hearings, Congress enacted the ADA and, in doing so, marked a significant advancement for the civil rights of people with disabilities."

Civil rights. In my reading and writing about disabilities lately, this phrase keeps coming up again and again. And it's starting to become a divisive one, in that some of the things that people with disabilities are asking for because they consider it a civil rights issue are slamming up against what the people who can provide those things consider civil rights issues. Some of the ones that I've covered in this blog are:

  • The right for people in wheelchairs to access a taxi in the same manner that people without wheelchairs do.
  • The right for women with intellectual disabilities to make decisions about their bodies (the Ashley Treatment)
  • The right for people with physical disabilities who use wheelchairs to have full access to public and hotel pools. (I haven't talked about this in the blog yet, but look for it soon. I just wrote an article about it, and it's a very hotly debated accessibility issue right now.)

I've always liked to consider myself a fairly intelligent person who can look at an argument from both sides. But, even as a person who'd worked with people with intellectual disabilities for a while before my stoke, I didn't understand how frustrating it was to navigate society as someone in a wheelchair until I was forced to do it.

I wouldn't have connected a New Yorker in a wheelchair's experience of missing a movie with friends because the cab he called through the Access-A-Cab service never came, knowing that his friends got there in plenty of time because they hailed a cab from the street in front of the restaurant they met at, as something that would have been totally unacceptable if it had happened to someone in any other minority group in the city.

I wouldn't have thought about how it would have felt for a child that used a wheelchair not to be able to use a city pool in the summer, until the Americans with Disabilities Act started to mandate that cities find ways to give people with disabilities access to their pools.

I think that sometimes people rail against making these changes to make society accessible because they've never had to think about how they'd feel if they or a loved one were in the situation where a lack of accessibility and their civil rights were being violated being violated.

Which is why legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act is so important.

Happy Birthday to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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