Ellen from New York

By Benetech, posted on

How has the ADA impacted your life regarding travel/mobility, education, employment, or any other aspect?

ADA has allowed both my children to be a full part of the world. I grew up watching children and adults seen as different not be allowed in, separated off into special programs or kept at home away from others completely. It wasn’t that long ago there were no wheelchair ramps, no Braille, few audiobooks—none of the things we take for granted now. Introducing my daughter to Bookshare was a joyful event, her face lit up as she realized what she could do. For a long time, she couldn’t find books independently, but she could play them and listen to them and she realized she could take in anything that her friends were reading and not be isolated in a corner with no idea what was being discussed whether in class or at recess. She still depends on and loves Bookshare, though uses other accommodations, to allow her inclusion in activities with friends and classmates. It’s clear though that we need to reinforce the importance of ADA and the progress made. There is no pie that needs to be divided up as far as how much goes to persons with disabilities, how much goes to people of color, and I see a trend in that direction. Supporting rights for anyone supports rights for everyone, because we are all more similar than we are different and have ideas of value to add to any conversation.

Can you share a “before and after” experience; e.g., before the ADA I couldn’t do X or was denied access to Y, and thanks to the ADA I can do Z.

I cannot directly for my experience, only for my experience of the world. I grew up completely confused why in a country I was taught valued the rights of all, my aunt had grown up in a relative’s attic, not permitted to go to school, and feeling confused also how it was my friend at religious school on the weekend did not ever show up at school. I was a very quiet child, and so I want to say that I understand now that she did not hear normally and perhaps needed a special program—but she seemed to hear me, so I really don’t understand. For years, I have worked with children who have disabilities, most of whom are fully, or almost fully, integrated with others. I did not expect my own children would depend on ADA, and the have and they do. My before and after then is about me as the crossover generation, growing up before and bringing children into the world after. I can’t imagine going back to where we are, but most people don’t remember even the simple struggle with stairs that have since been replaced by ramps that was once commonplace and may not realize what we have now is fragile. I am grateful you asked this question and hope that people will read the stories.

What advances in disability rights would you like to see in the next 30 years?

I would like to see a shift toward making things more universally accessible. There are many difficulties becoming certified as deserving of disability rights at present and some persons who need protection aren’t able to acquire the correct documentation. I see a trend toward institutions rushing to support equity for persons of color and away from equity for persons with disabilities. This to me is dangerous to both groups and creates an either or situation that is unnecessary. I would like to see people able to work together more toward more universal goals rather than trying to divide up a virtual pie as far as how much goes to which disadvantaged group. There is enough if we are thoughtful how we do things.

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