Twenty-five years ago this weekend, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. This groundbreaking legislation guaranteed civil rights protections to people with disabilities, and assured equal access to businesses, employment, government programs, transportation and telecommunications. The ADA’s 25th anniversary will be celebrated around the country this week with public events, ceremonies and exhibits.
Many Americans experience the legacy of the ADA in their lives on a regular basis – from ramps that make buildings accessible to subtitled television programs, and from inclusive classrooms to braille labels in elevators. Here’s what four members of the Perkins School for the Blind community had to say about the impact of the ADA on their lives, and the lives of others who are blind, deafblind or visually impaired.
A driving force behind services
It’s likely the ADA was a driving force behind some wonderful services such as The Ride (the public transportation service for people with disabilities in Massachusetts), talking ATMs and accessible online services, all of which have truly enhanced independence for people with disabilities. I could not work here at Perkins if it were not for The Ride. And of course there are more obvious results of the ADA that make things easier for everyone. Ramped curbs and accessible public buildings are two examples. But in talking about this with a couple of friends, we also agreed that it is more difficult for a person who is blind to find employment today than it was prior to the ADA. Employers are afraid that if they hire a person with a disability, they will have to adhere to all sorts of rules, and they’ll be stuck with that person if things don’t work out.
– Jerry Berrier, iCanConnect program manager
Access to my community
For me personally, the ADA gave opportunities to create programs to train people to become interpreters and support service providers (SSPs) who specifically understand the needs of people who are deafblind. I really cherish having the ability to access my community. If the ADA was never passed, that would mean people who are deafblind would be stuck in their homes waiting for family or friends to have time to take them to do their everyday errands or just read their mail. That would be awful! The ADA has also helped to improve educational services by keeping specially trained teachers for special education students. It’s so important to have the ADA for access to other things like technology as well. Using special software makes it possible to communicate with many people, including those who do not know sign language.
– Jaimi Lard, Perkins spokesperson
We cannot legislate attitudes
While the ADA is designed to provide civil rights for people with disabilities, it is still the case that 75 percent of people who are blind in this country are either unemployed or underemployed. We do have protection under this law to take action against discriminatory practices by employers, and yet the statistic of unemployment hasn’t improved. It is clear we cannot legislate attitudes about blindness! Our work must continue to educate people about visual impairments. With proper education and training, we can live full and productive lives working and contributing to society, just as those who are sighted.
– JoAnn Becker, Perkins Solutions technology specialist
Showing others what is possible
What the ADA has meant to me is the chance to teach others about what it means. I am a librarian. I help lead people to knowledge; sometimes it is what is needed, other times we must find another path. Disability service programs in higher-ed, job accommodations; these were things I was entitled to and was expected to learn about. Those services, the accommodations, those are what have helped to make it possible for me to show others what is possible. The late Senator Ted Kennedy frequently spoke about his belief “that to whom much is given, much is expected,” and that lesson resonates with me as well. While the ADA is clear in its mandate that the standards and services it outlines are not negotiable – the expectation is that those services are meant to serve the individual to help serve many.
– James Gleason, Perkins Library deputy director