It’s been 16 years since the signing in July 1990 of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the law created to make the public, private and employment sectors of American society accessible to people with disabilities. Sixteen years — versus long human centuries of barriers and prejudices against people with disabilities.
Needless to say, the gap between ADA ideals and reality is still pretty wide.
But the ADA is proving hardy, resisting efforts to mow it down. Like grass growing in a sidewalk crack, it’s slowly spreading its roots into the foundation of American society, sprouting curb cuts, accessible buildings, employer accommodations and more.
There are no “ADA police,” so ADA enforcement usually is the result of a formal complaint, often from a person with a disability. But real change also requires follow-through.
Anita (Amy) Ashdon of Walpole, Mass., moderates an Internet group called Independent Living, posting under the name “charmedcripchic.” The 38-year-old, who has spinal muscular atrophy and other health issues, would like to see more people participate in ADA implementation.
During her 15-plus years of disability rights activism, Ashdon says, “I’ve noticed a small handful of people with disabilities (pwds) who work very hard toward positive change. However, the majority of pwds I meet don’t advocate for themselves.
“They want to commiserate together and complain about things, but don’t take time to make a few phone calls, write one letter, or even get agencies paid to implement the ADA codes and disability rights laws involved,” she explains.
The result is that when she calls an agency to report a common problem, she’s often told, “‘Well, you’re the only call we’ve received...’ Meanwhile pwds around me tell me, ‘You’re an activist, fix this issue for me.’”
Independent Living has issued an Access and Advocacy challenge to group members, asking them to tackle just one access issue in their communities over the next year, or to cheer on and support other advocates working for change.
“Everyone, disabled or not, do something when you see unfairness going on,” Ashdon urges. “Tell the handicapped parking ‘stealer’ to get out, report problems to managers, call your disability rights organizations and follow it through to the end. Write a blog or book to document to the world your experiences and raise awareness. Don’t just sit there, do something.”
The articles in this series document some of the many ways the ADA did — and didn’t — make an impact in the past year.