Breath & Shadow
Spring 2011 - Vol. 8, Issue 2
"ADA, the beautiful!"
Pinalben "Pinky" Patel
A social worker in my town asked me to write a speech about the benefits of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to present at a rally celebrating its anniversary. When I discussed this with my wheelchair using friends, some of their replies shocked me.
Many agreed with me that while the ADA could use improvements, it has been very useful for people with disabilities. Some, however, believed the ADA had no positive effects. This struck me as ungrateful, but I realized that they just didn't have experience living as a person with a disability before the ADA.
The ADA has always been about equal access for people with disabilities. It was signed into law July 26, 1990, 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 wealthy enough to have attendants around all the time to lift them over stairs or barriers to get into buildings.
I was born in India. My family and I came to the USA when I was four years old, but we had to return to India when I was twelve. I had been diagnosed with Friedreich's ataxia, a genetic, degenerative nerve disease.
Three years later, when I was forced to drop out of school in India, I realized the importance of the ADA. My disability had progressed and I couldn't walk with a person holding me anymore. I needed to use a wheelchair. Most schools where I lived were several stories high, without elevators or ramps.
The school I attended offered to have some janitors lift and get me into the building, but transportation was still an issue. Considering ramps and elevators were not available in public places, accessible transportation was unthinkable. The school bus driver complained about helping me in and out of the bus. He told my parents that I didn’t need an education since I was "handicapped." My parents considered private bus transportation, but it was too expensive.
Luckily, my family got a chance to come back to the United States two years later. I started school again and eventually finished high school. In 2007 I graduated with a journalism degree from Murray state University!
I wouldn’t have been able to continue my education if not for the ADA. Even though my voice is weak, I can to communicate effectively and coherently as a result of my studies. I am grateful to the leaders of the American’s With Disabilities Coalition. Ed Roberts, Gini Laurie, and Justin Dart pushed tirelessly for the ADA to be signed into law. As a result, I can go to many more places--stores, restaurants, theaters, etc. in the USA.
I last visited India in 2004, and there was nothing equivalent to the ADA yet. In a city famous for its malls, I had to do my shopping from the car. There was only one store I could go in, but I still had to be lifted over a step. That store had two floors, and of course I didn't get to go upstairs.
The accommodations required by the ADA make living with a disability easier, but there are still more improvements to be made. Twenty-years after the ADA went into effect, many buildings and public places remain inaccessible. Some politicians still want to exempt private businesses from ADA requirements. Many architects mistakenly think putting grab bars in bathroom stalls or changing rooms for able-bodied people makes them accessible. Those architects should spend a couple days in a power wheelchair.
The ADA is not just about wheelchair access. People who are blind or visually impaired need computers with accessible programs, as well as accessible web sites that work with screen reading and screen enlarging software. People who are hearing impaired need things like flashing light alarms in case of a fire.
The ADA is a Civil Rights law for people with disabilities. We are a protected class--the largest minority in this country. In its twenty years, some politicians, the Supreme Court cases such as Brown versus the State of Tennessee and others have tried to weaken the ADA.
Even though the ADA has made it illegal to deny employment because of a disability, discrimination is often difficult or impossible to prove. Countless among the disabled population are educated and unwillingly unemployed.
My friends who disagreed with me need to realize that the ADA will never be perfect, especially since there are so many different disabilities and unique circumstances. We need to keep fighting for our rights and stand up to injustice and discrimination. Equal rights and opportunity are indeed beautiful ideals, and the ADA has made them easier to achieve.
Pinalben "Pinky " Patel is a freelance writer who dreams of being a novelist. She lives in Paducah, Kentucky with her parents and has a degree in journalism from Murray State University. She is a typical writer who enjoys reading, learning about world culture and stringing words together on paper. Pinky is the only person in her family to pursue writing. She uses Dragon Naturally Speaking to assist with her writing, which can be frustrating but much faster than typing manually. Check out her writing at: http://pinkdreams_1.tripod.com.