A Sibling’s Perspective on the Americans with Disabilities Act

Two young girls, one with a visible disability who uses a wheelchair.

My sister was born – with physical and developmental disabilities – just 45 days before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990.

The ADA took effect as we were growing up. The ADA, along with the groundwork laid by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Rehabilitation Act of 1973 meant that we had immensely more access than the generations before us. My sister could attend the same schools, and participate in the same events. She couldn’t be denied access to town events and local businesses. By the time we were old enough to notice, we expected basic accessibility in most places.

However, as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized how many of the routes and routines that I never thought twice about were actually defined by wheelchair access:

  • QFC, not Albertson’s grocery
  • Always the drive-through, never the sit-down
  • Always the elevator, never the escalator

And then I remember the ones that were obvious, when we were not quite welcome, but technically allowed in, like using the garbage ramp in the back door of our 1970’s era high school auditorium.

Unfortunately, too many places today still look the way they did in the early 1990’s and dictate the routes and routines of disabled people’s lives by when and where each place decides to follow the law. Technical compliance is enough, even when it doesn’t feel like real access or inclusion.

A friend of mine who uses a wheelchair noted that her life is circumscribed by the accessible routes of her town. She’s never been down certain streets, except in a car.

We still have so much work to do.

Unfortunately, current efforts in Congress would roll back the basic ADA protections we have now. As part of this, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing about the ADA, that wasn’t even captioned.

We are celebrating the 26th anniversary of the ADA, and we should. We have come so far. But this sib also looks forward to spending the next 26 years making sure that access and inclusion are a reality, in each place and for each family.

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One Response to A Sibling’s Perspective on the Americans with Disabilities Act

  1. Bill Heidler says:

    My brother has Down Syndrome, but was more or less fully mobile until December 2014. He has been wheelchair bound since then. I have been caring for him in Ohio and California, intensively since last December (2015).
    I have found physical access to facilities not to be a huge issue. Perhaps partly because I have been able to transfer him myself into and out of a passenger car, he has been able to travel on an airplane with me, has gone shopping and to a day activity program.
    The HUGE problem I have had is that he has been essentially ejected from two post-hospitalization rehabilitation facilities, one in Ohio and one in California, due to his behavior and feeding requirements. He was also refused admission to a rehab facility in California after being “interviewed”, in which it was found that his attitude and behavior were not to their liking. To me, all of these were clear violations of the ADA (http://dredf.org/legal-advocacy/laws/):
    Q. Can a health care facility deny service to a person with a disability because his or her disability or behavior resulting from the disability may be disturbing to other customers?

    A. No. The ADA specifically prohibits this type of discrimination against people with disabilities.