- By Guest Blogger Pinalben "Pinky" Patel -
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has always been about giving equal access to people with disabilities. It was a bipartisan bill with great support from both parties and the president. Before the ADA, people with disabilities were not able to participate in the community unless they were rich enough to have a few attendants around all the time to lift them over steps or stairs to get into buildings.
My disability -- Friedreich's ataxia -- is degenerative so I was almost able-bodied before the days of the ADA. And I was only nine years old when the ADA came into law. I was born in India. My family and I came to the USA when I was four years old, but we had to go back to India when I was about 12 years old.
It was three years later in India when I realized the importance of the ADA. My disability had progressed and I couldn't walk with one person holding me anymore. I needed to use a wheelchair. Most schools around where I lived were a couple of stories high without elevators and they have seven or eight steps to the first floor without ramps! I had to drop out of school. Luckily my family got a chance to come back to the USA a couple of years later. I started school again after I got back, and today I am a writer with a journalism degree from Murray state University!
I know I would not have gotten to study if it weren't for the ADA. I am grateful to the people who pushed for the ADA to be signed into law. I can go to many places where I don't have to be lifted like stores, restaurants, theater. I remember the last time I was in India – where there is nothing equivalent to the ADA -- I did my shopping from the car. There was only one store I could go into but still had to be lifted for one step. That store had two floors and I didn't even get to go upstairs!
Yes, the accommodations required by the ADA make our lives easier. But there are so many more improvements to be made. It has been 20 years since the ADA and there are still many inaccessible places. Some politicians and candidates still want to exempt private businesses from the ADA requirements. That's not how it should be especially 20 years later – there are ways to retain a building's authenticity while making it accessible! Many architects still think that putting grab bars in bathroom stalls or changing rooms for able-bodied people would make them accessible! Those architects should spend a couple of days in a power wheelchair or consult with a wheelchair user before remodeling. Installation cost shouldn't be an issue for successful businesses such as independent restaurants, bakeries, or parlors so don't be afraid to complain if access is not available.
The ADA is a Central Civil Rights law for people with disabilities. We are a protected group of people and the largest minority in this country. In its 20 years, some politicians, the Supreme Court and others tried to weaken the ADA.
Even though the ADA has made it illegal to deny a job because of a disability, there are still far more educated, unemployed disabled people than able-bodied people. We need to keep fighting for our rights, and we need to stand up to the injustice and discrimination.