How has the ADA impacted your life regarding travel/mobility, education, employment, or any other aspect?
I have been blind since birth, and the Americans With Disabilities Act has really made a positive impact in my education. When I First started school as a blind student, I had access to many resources including educators that helped me learn braille at the age of three as One of the provisions under the AdA. Back then, it was a lot harder as a blind student even with the access to the necessary tools provided under the Americans with disabilities act because of the lack of access to a computer equipped with screen reading softwares, and not many schools knew about the advancement of said technology at the time, especially during my formative years. Growing up everything was very cumbersome. Every day, I had to bring a big heavy backpack full of braille books and my braille Notetaker, then called the braille Lite which cane with a big heavy wall charger that was the size of a rectangular brick. Also, to print my homework I used to have two printers, one at school and one at home which only use serial ports to connect. To save my homework, I would have to get a separate drive that could connect to the Notetaker. It was a floppy disk drive back then. If the Braille books were not available on time, organizations like recordings for the blind now known as learning Ally provided me audiobooks on cassettes which came in boxes of 30 depending on the length of the book. Also, I had to use a four-track tape recorder to listen to them. They had portable tape recorders that were specially designed to play those tapes and felt like the size of a large Walkman. Then the CDs came along, and I upgraded to the telex scholar CD player which was a round device with at least seven different buttons arranged in a circular clock order with a round play button in the middle. For math I had to use the regular old Perkins braille writer and transporting it to class. The Perkins Braille writer is all metal and looked like one of those old 1950s typewriters. They don’t make those anymore. For that, I needed help because it was too heavy for me to transport. Each textbook was equivalent to a big box full of at least 30 volumes. Now that was a truckload of books without including the shopping cart of technology I needed back then. If either alternative format was not available, I would have to ask others for me to read my assignments so that I can type it on my braille device. as required under the ADA, The schools should provide reasonable accommodations such as hiring readers to help read and if necessary write or scan materials, especially for grades K through 12. because of the ADA, companies like Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft have stepped up to provide accessible technology. Now as an adult, I only use my Mac, iPhone, and iPad to do my work, even though I still keep the old technology I used to use back then. Everything is on the iPhone, computer and iPad which I can access using a refreshable braille display known as the Focus40 when needed, so it is much simpler. The refreshable braille display is a 12-inch rectangular machine that has 40 braille cells with a braille keyboard which weighs about 1 pound and can be carried like a regular purse. Overall, my load has been lightened considerably thanks to the efforts, perseverance and dedication put into making products accessible for people with any type of disability under the ADA. In other words, being blind is easier these days because technology has improved so much in terms of widespread and equal accessibility, giving us a lot of hope and regained faith for the future. Young blind kids have the best of both worlds today, thanks to thee ADA policies put in place to protect our rights as citizens with disabilities.
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 was too young to even remember how life was like before the Americans with Disabilities Act. With the ADA in place, I am free to live the life I want because I know that I will always have access to the necessary support whether it is for education, career development, technology, or other resources stipulated under this policy. Thanks to these efforts, many companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon and others are joining in the Accessibility bandwagon. Because of these advancements, my load has considerably been lightened because I no longer need a truck full of braille books or the shopping cart full of my essential equipment to transport around just to do simple work assignments and at a much slower pace. Now I can do much more at a faster pace and increase my productivity on my ipad, computer, and iphone which all can connect to a refreshable braille display through Bluetooth. All of this is very possible thanks to having our faith firmly planted on the efforts and determination of advocates who really fought tirelessly to make the implementation of the ADA possible in all settings. All of these resources are transferable between school and work teaching kids many skills from literacy using both braille and audio books,, to how to be a great self-advocate and for others, to working more efficiently at the same pace as their sighted colleagues, to traveling with greater independence using technology now that both school and work are virtual due to the current public health situation. By going virtual, I am free and no longer restricted to ongoing physical barriers like the constant lack of access to reliable and affordable transportation.
What advances in disability rights would you like to see in the next 30 years?
In the next 30 years, the Americans with disabilities act should focus more on four important areas that need more improvement. These are, providing better accessibility to employment opportunities, reliable and affordable transportation, broader insurance coverage extending access to essential healthcare resources like vital medical documentation in alternate formats (Braille, electronic or audio,) medical transportation, and better access to voting and civic engagement through assistive technology. To achieve this, disability-oriented organizations should step in to do more outreach by educating, promoting awareness and guiding incoming professionals on how to approach finding their dream jobs, guidance on how to request additional support to meet essential healthcare needs and obtain coverage for assistive medical devices and facilitate ways to get involved civically. For employment purposes, guidance can include, how to navigate job listings, tips for interviewing, tips for asking for help during their job search and others. Also, the ADA should be in force when it comes to developing websites that provide access to information. There is no excuse for websites not to be accessible especially when it comes to government websites that offer jobs. This is one of my ongoing frustrations as a blind person, having to click on buttons that do not work with my screen reading software when I try to apply for different jobs. With these roadblocks, one can easily become very discouraged and not try because of the lack of motivation and the inability to independently do it. The Accessibility it’s not about patching holes, but about remodeling and reinventing the whole product in order to accommodate all users. This leads to another issue of concern for all citizens which is universal accessibility to voting and even filing paperwork for prospective candidates who wish to run for office and deepen their civic engagement. Voters with disabilities have the right to vote independently and privately even if it involves the option to vote by mail during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Prospective candidates should have the option to run as long as the paperwork is in an electronic format, and assistance is provided to collect signatures for their respective petitions to be included in the ballot. For improved coverage to accessible healthcare, assistive devices like those mentioned above with the addition of braille displays should be listed as medical equipment, especially for those who are deaf-blind. Vital equipment like accessible pulse oximeters should be covered under any medical ensurence especially now that we are facing the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing sic patients to independently monitor oxygen levels at home while minimizing additional contagion or exposure risks for their families or caregivers. These suggestions will allow the ADA policies more room for further improvement, us to have more freedom, less stress due to ongoing frustration from lack of accessibility to vital information or resources and increased autonomy.