With the sun heating up the late morning air, more than 100 people gathered at the Boone County Courthouse Square on Saturday, July 24, 2010, to celebrate Disability Pride-the 20th Anniversary of the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA).
“It’s our Independence Day. A day to remember, celebrate and dream for the future.” said Homer Page, Columbia Disabilities Commission chairman as he stood before the crowd.
long with other participants, Page marched in the first mid-Missouri Disability Pride Parade on a route that included Broadway and Walnut streets.
Before the parade began, Page reminded participants of those who struggled before them and pushed for the legislation. He recalled heroic acts of some who pushed those with disabilities to physical limits in protest of the lack of civil rights, and reminded participants that there are members of Congress, business owners, artists, entertainers, educators and most importantly, breadwinners, today who are disabled.
The parade was the first of many events scheduled during the week of July 21-August 1, to recognize and celebrate the signing of the American with Disabilities Act, by President George W. Bush in late July,1990. Among the week's events were lunch and learn sessions.
One such event titled The ADA - Past and Present, was held at the Columbia Public Library on Wednesday, July 29. The event featured a panel discussion which included facilitator David Oliver, PhD, assistant director for the MU Interdisciplinary Center on Aging; Homer Page, PhD, Columbia Disabilities Commission chairman; Lee Hensen, J.D., coordinator of the University of Missouri’s Office of the ADA; and Gretchen Maune, a graduate student in the MU College of Arts and Science’s English Department.
Page began the panel discussion by outlining the history of disability activists and their journey to seeing the ADA passed in1990. Following his discussion, Hensen shared the story of his experience in becoming disabled.
“I became disabled in 1998 as a result of an accident.” he said. Hensen now uses a wheelchair and has limited mobility in his hands and arms. “When I became disabled I was working for the U.S. Department of Justice. I just thought that the Department would do the right thing,” he said, “ …but, they didn’t.”
Following the loss of his job, Hensen spent years litigating his case to ensure his rights were honored. Today, his perspective about being disabled in the workplace has changed.
“I used to not want to work where I wasn’t wanted.” Hesen said. “Today, that’s exactly where I want to work so that I can educate others on the value of those with disabilities and so I can advocate for the rights of the disabled.”
Gretchen Maune, a graduate student in the MU College of Arts and Science’s English Department, also shared her experience of becoming disabled during her Sophomore year in college.
“Before I got my disability I didn’t know anything about disabilities.” she said, “Now, I want people with disabilities to have the same access as everyone else.”
Blinded by a rare degenerative disease in 2006, Gretchen said, “Often measures that are supposed to be in place to ensure equal access aren’t always followed. I experienced being a student without a disability and with a disability and saw a stark contrast.” she said. “I would get my assignments a day after everyone else because they had to be translated into Braille, but I was expected to turn them in at the same time as everyone else.”
To ensure that those with disabilities have the same access to education, entertainment, work and other things, Maune suggests a “universal design” of everything from websites to walkways that requires that everything be accessible to everyone, with or without disabilities. As she spoke about equal access and "universal design", Maune mentioned the following as specific ways to improve accessiblity:
- Encourage movie theaters to provide captions for all movies so that those with hearing impairments can enjoy them;
- Make sure all buildings are accessible to everyone, including those who are visually impaired, in wheelchairs or who have service animals;
- Make sure all written materials are available in Braille;
- Install audible traffic signs for the visually impaired;
- Repair and keep in good repair all public sidewalks, roads and walkways;
- Make websites accessible to the visually impaired by including coding that can be read by an electronic device; and
- Make workout equipment, like treadmills, accessible to the visually impaired by adding Braille to the control panels
Said Maune of her current workout routine, “All of the treadmills at the MU Recreation Center have touchpad’s that I can’t use without assistance.”
Oliver summed up the comments of the panelists by outlining five main points that people with disabilities need to continue to address, despite the advances made since the signing of the ADA. These include
- Making sure equal access is a reality in all environments;
- Providing for better communication for the deaf and hearing impaired (Oliver noted that sign language is the third most used form of language in the U.S. behind English and Spanish);
- Making sure that the blind and visually impaired have access to the internet and other media;
- Ensuring adequate services for people with mental illness and other hidden disabilities; and
- Ensuring that people with disabilities have adequate access to healthcare and other services so that they can live as independently as possible.
While this lunch and learn provided a comprehensive look at the ADA and how it has helped people living with disabilities in the past 20 years, it was not the only event during the 20th anniversary celebration. Other events included a youth focused Self-determination and Mentoring lunch and learn at the University of Missouri, open houses at Services for Independent Living, New Horizons and Woodhaven, a demonstration of MU’s Adaptive Gymnastics program and the MU Tiger Wheelchair Basketball Team, a game between Columbia’s Power Soccer wheelchair team the Driving Force and St. Louis’ wheelchair team the Firecrackers, a lunch and learn about employment offered through JobPoint and a Storytelling, Art and Music event for children which was featured in an article in the Columbia Missourian.
“The week of events turned out better than we could have hoped for.” said ADA celebration coordinator Becky Stewart with Services for Independent Living. “But, I think we’ll wait until the 25th anniversary of the ADA before we do another celebration on this scale.” she concluded with a smile.
To view photos from ADA related events click here.
Additional articles highligting the week long celebration of the ADA include: