By Dan Sullivan
With the advent of the ADA’s upcoming 25th anniversary, has this historic legislative act completely changed the world for those of us with disabilities? The surprising answer may be a resounding no. The reason being is that the Americans with Disabilities Act never was meant to make wholesale changes. Instead, it was designed as a catalyst, thus prompting those of us facing various challenges to make the changes ourselves. In essence, the ADA has served as an evolution to open doors that we can now decide on how and when to enter.
Prior to the ADA, we lived in a society that focused on what couldn’t be done. For example, someone in a wheelchair could not get that job on the fourth floor because no elevator existed. Any person with limited visual acuity could not read the computer screen because the technology had yet to be created. Interpreters and closed captioning were still on the horizon for anyone with a hearing impairment. Thanks to the courage and confidence that stemmed from the ADA, times started changing.
Following the inception of this legislation, I personally saw how accommodations evolved from begging sessions to simple requests such as documents in large print format and access to adaptive equipment. Job applications stopped requiring a valid driver’s license. Sensitivity training and an EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) emphasis showed up in the workplace. A more formal and serious complaint process gave voice to issues. Friends of mine no longer had to wrangle with restaurants, hotels, and taxis about their guide dogs. Those in wheelchairs wrestled less frequently with unwieldy doors due to newly installed automatic openers. Ramped entrances began showing up at businesses and residences. The hearing loss community could utilize the standard phone systems. Nowadays, we take these things for granted, which is a huge departure from days past.
Although there is no legislation on this planet which can totally eliminate prejudice, ignorance, and discrimination, the awareness nurtured by the ADA has made significant contributions toward lessoning these negatives. Most of all, it has helped so many to understand, that through awareness, opportunity, and accommodations, each and every one of us can make a positive contribution. In this brave new world, the ADA has made us all a bit braver.
Dan Sullivan now lives in Minocqua, Wisconsin.
Featured image: “Protram205 ramp” by Lasart75 is licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons