As the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), ACL is featuring guest blogs from leaders in the disability community. For decades, the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research has funded the ADA National Network, a consortium of 10 regional organizations dedicated to the successful implementation of the ADA. In this blog post, Robin Jones of the Great Lakes ADA Center reflects on the progress made since the ADA’s passage, and the work yet to be done to ensure full inclusion of individuals with disabilities.
“What is the ADA?”
“Are we required to provide a sign language interpreter at a public meeting?”
“How many inches off the ground does a toilet paper dispenser have to be?”
“Are we required to provide someone with a private office?”
These are just a few of the questions that ADA National Network members (formerly known as Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers) respond to on a daily basis. No question is a bad question. They only serve as reminders of the need for awareness and education that still exists in our local communities.
The 25th anniversary of the ADA is a time for reflection and celebration. It is also a time to look back at the strategies that have (and have not) worked to promote compliance with the ADA and consider the work that lies ahead.
People with disabilities continue to face many barriers to full community integration. The barrier may be a building that is not physically accessible or it may be an attitude or expectation.
Despite the availability of training and technical assistance for HR managers, recruiters, and supervisors, the unemployment rate of persons with disabilities remains largely unchanged from 25 years ago.
The development and utilization of new technologies are presenting opportunities for increased participation by persons with disabilities in their communities and the workplace. Yet developers of such technologies often ignore the needs of people who use assistive technologies during the development phase and thus, accessibility becomes an afterthought or an “add on” component.
Providing technical assistance, consultations, and training is not enough to achieve the types of changes in attitude and knowledge necessary to realize the full promise of the ADA. It takes a combination of strategies and approaches. This can include getting information into the hands of the people who need it, when they need it via face-to-face contact, telephone, email, social media, mobile apps, web based resources, distance learning, and regional and national conferences. It also involves creating positive relationships and gaining the trust and respect of local decision makers, business organizations, service providers, educational entities, disability advocates, and others as they can come together to pinpoint unmet needs and map out solutions.
Members of the ADA National Network have been at the forefront of providing guidance and helping their communities move in the right direction.
I have seen many examples of the impact of the ADA Network:
- An architect was able to avoid a costly mistake by using the ADA Network as a resource for verifying a required technical element in their design.
- A small business owner averted potential litigation after consulting with the ADA Network about specific accommodations for a new employee.
- A college student was able to complete her degree requirements after becoming more educated about her rights and empowered to advocate for an accommodation in the classroom.
- A business owner reports an increase in their customer base after attending training and learning more about low cost solutions, such as decluttering aisles, to increase access to their goods and services.
- A state agency that received guidance from the ADA Network to help them develop a more inclusive policy.
- A park district turned to the ADA Network for information that helped ensure that their procurement contract for a new website included accessibility guidelines and standards.
As we take time to celebrate the historic steps taken to grant equal rights and opportunities for persons with disabilities, it is important to note that our work is not done. We can embrace the opportunity afforded by this moment to remind society about the importance of civil rights for all and challenge our policymakers, business owners, employers, educators, designers, service providers, and the general public to do more.
Members of the ADA Network are proud of the role that we have played toward advancing the rights of persons with disabilities. We embrace the opportunity to witness what the next 25 years will bring.
As with all guest contributions to the ACL website, this blog reflects the experiences and thoughts of the author. Find more information about guest content on the ACL site.