Tuesday, July 27, 2010

ADA, the beautiful!

- 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.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The ADA: 20 Years – My Hero

- By Keith Hosey -

“I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hello again readers. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will be twenty years old July 26th. I’ve been spending quite a bit of time thinking about this lately. This is our second installment in the Center’s ADA series. I’m at the National Council for Independent Living and it’s a great atmosphere for re-charging your advocacy batteries.

I want to tell you about one of my heroes. There are many advocates who worked towards disability rights. There was Ed Roberts, Justin Dart, Jr., and tons more. I want to tell you about a guy I’ve had the pleasure to meet, hear and be inspired by. The good news: he’s agreed to be part of our ADA series and already has a documentary about him.

If you’ve ever been on an accessible bus in Denver, Chicago, Louisville or a handful of other places, you can thank Arthur Campbell, Jr. for it. He stopped busses in those places to demand access, even before the ADA was law. This guy’s been arrested in more states fighting for your rights than I’ve probably visited. Humble? Well, not really, but he’s got a great sense of humor. Arthur was a member of a group arrested in the nation’s capitol building fighting for the rights of people with disabilities. That’s history in my opinion.

"Where would the blacks be if that poor, tired lady hadn't decided to fight back and not give up her seat on the bus?" asks Campbell. "It takes someone to make a stand, someone to say, 'I've had enough.' In our case, we can't even get on the bus, let alone ride in the back." Crashing their wheelchairs through police lines and manacling themselves to buses in acts of civil disobedience, Campbell and his fellow activists helped dramatize the need for access for people with disabilities. In one of the film's most stirring sequences, Campbell participates in a Washington, D.C. protest rally in which 70 disabled activists laboriously drag themselves up the steps of our nation's Capitol. Their efforts helped spur the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990.” – Walter Brock, Documentary Film Maker – If I Can’t Do It

Arthur inspires me, he never stops. He fought for the ADA, then he saw the ADA signed in person. He is a part of American history and I am honored to know him.

Who inspires you?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Will Disabilities Exist in the Future?

- By Keith Hosey -

Lately I’ve been thinking about the future. I went to a meeting about a park that is planned for the eastern part of Metro Louisville, a very exciting and ambitious project. I think the people involved are on the right track and inclusion on all abilities is a priority. Most organizations have a five year plan; their vision is a hundred years plan. That got me thinking, will disabilities exist in the future?

Three reasons they might not:

  1. Stem Cells. The science is in its infancy, but the applications seem to be out of this world. It promises to possibly help people with paralysis walk again, people with ocular diseases regenerate vision, and people with degenerative diseases fight back. Where will it take us? I’m not sure, but when I think about quality of life that it could create for millions of people… this thing seems to me like the best medical advance since penicillin.
  1. Genome Sequencing / Gene Manipulation. Order up, we’re already doing it with our food. Imagine a world like the movie Gattica, where before you’re born the doctors can see what genes may cause a disease or disability. Will future Hosey generations have no worry of their children being born with severe bilateral club feet? Will we be able to cure congenital diseases before they exist?
  1. Nano-Technology. The other night I saw a news piece on a Nanoknife: “It's not really a knife, but state-of-the-art technology to remove tumors that are considered inoperable. U of L Hospital is one of only twelve medical centers in the country to have the device.” Computer technology is getting smaller and more advanced, so it’s not out of the question that an army of nano-bots isn’t in medicine’s future.

Three reasons they might:

  1. The have nots. In the movie “Gattica” the rich had access to gene manipulation and the poor had congenital disabilities and diseases. Take polio, the vaccine was invented in 1955. Dr. Jonas Salk refused to patent the vaccine, so it could be widely available to everyone who needs it. The last case of polio occurring in the US was in 1979 (not counting any cases that were brought to the US by foreign carriers or caused by the vaccine). Do you want to see what countries still have polio cases in 2010?
  1. We’re getting older. Science and medicine has extended life expectancy well into people’s nineties (my grandma is 97 this year and goes on cruises). What about when we’re living to 120? There is a race between life expectancy and quality of that life. Stem cells could likely make a thirty year old in a wheelchair a sight of the past, but what about the hundred-and-thirty year old?
  1. Cochlear Implants. There is a hot debate in the Deaf Community (capital D, culturally Deaf), which consists largely of Deaf people whose first language is American Sign Language. Many Deaf individuals don’t consider their hearing loss as a disability, rather it is a cultural heritage. The community is split on the issue, but there are some Deaf parents who would rather not get the implants for their children. Maybe to an outsider this doesn’t make too much sense. The debate has softened in the past few years, but there is a greater question of culture here. They feel it is an attack on their culture and heritage. I don’t know many people that wouldn’t readily “take the cure” if it were available, but there are some who identify their disability as a major part of who they are.

Did I miss an important list item? What do you think? Will Disabilities Exist in the Future?

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stephenr/2275518435/

Thursday, July 1, 2010

I'm disabled - not someone to look straight through

- by Guest Blogger, Stephanie Hickey -

I am, like a fair amount of people these days, looking for work. Until that time, I have to make do with my disability income. A few months ago when cashing my SSI check, the cashier commented, “You get this much money a month for sitting around and doing nothing? Wow!” The remark reminded me of an incident in high school. As part of the dress code, we were not allowed to wear tennis shoes. However, I had to wear braces on my feet and tennis shoes were the only shoes wide enough for the braces to fit in.

One of the girls did not like this and pitched a little fit. “Why does she get to wear tennis shoes?” I realized why, of course. I do not look visibly disabled--I’m not in a wheelchair or using a cane. More than a decade of therapy and seven operations helped me improve my condition a great deal. The assumption bothered me, as if I were receiving special treatment, as if I wouldn’t have gladly exchanged having to wear those irritating and painful braces (inside my tennis shoes) for a cute pair of dress shoes like everyone else had. I would’ve happily done so, just as I used the stairs instead of taking the elevator, which I could’ve easily obtained a pass to use.

I constantly encounter the attitude behind that remark. It’s the belief that people with disabilities get special privileges. From tennis shoes to the parking sticker to a free income, we get some things so easy? This is not the case. These things considered “privileges” are trivial in comparison to the reason we have them. While I don’t feel ashamed of my disability, I would gladly exchange bodies with a--for lack of a better word--healthy individual so that I’d have no use for these “luxuries”. I believe that many individuals with disabilities agree that these comforts are no real trade off for disability.

This is the kind of treatment I’ve seen people with disabilities get. If we are not forgotten or invisible to society, save the awkward stares, we get treated as inferior by a far majority of those lucky enough to be fully able. People with disabilities don’t get enough consideration in society or government. Not enough buildings are accessible and while there are programs to help people with disabilities, there could still be a lot more.

I’m not trying to make this a self-righteous diatribe, I’m just asking people to think before they speak. It’s truly as the saying goes: “You never know someone’s life until you walk a mile in their shoes.” And I’d readily trade you my shoes and my parking sticker if I could.

Photo Credit