H.R. 620: Reforming Disabled Americans’ Civil Rights Backwards

October 17, 2018 | Cecilia S. Grugan, 2018 AAPD Summer Intern

For 28 years now, disabled Americans have been flourishing in a garden of opportunity unlike any era preceding the 21st Century. The newly founded civil rights today were granted by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Such an act outlaws discrimination in many facets of life including employment, transportation, education, and all else that is open to the public. It was not until recent years that such legislation became controversial. Select legislative powerhouses have since been considering a new amendment.

Since 2013, the provisions of the law have led to the triple amount of lawsuits generated primarily by anti-business lawyers. Due to these results, H.R. 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act is an effort to amend a requirement that mandates a “notice and cure” period by any person claiming a discriminatory experience. It is imperative to note that no such other civil rights legislation has such a provision.

Supporters say the bill will put the brakes on the lawsuits that benefit lawyers more than disabled Americans. In opposition to the bill, disabled Americans will be robbed of remedies provided by ADA violations. Representative Jim Langevin, the first disabled American with quadripalegia elected to Congress, stated that “This bill reverses decades of progress by undercutting our ability to assert our rights under the law through the use of a ‘notice and cure’ provision.” Nevertheless, the United States House of Representatives’ final vote included 225 in favor, 192 against, and 13 abstentions. This voting outcome allowed for the bill to pass the House. However, the bill still needs to slide through the Senate and be signed by the President before it has a chance to become adopted.

If such a bill does pass, the law will require disabled Americans to provide a written notice about an ADA violation to the offending entity and wait up to 60 days before the entity responds. Not only that, but after the entity responds, the entity has an additional 120 days to make meaningful progress toward fixing the discriminatory claim. With these timeframes, entities essentially can respond over a period of six months. These strenuous results for the disabled American community symbolize the coined phrase by William E. Gladstone, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” Seek out justice and call your Senators!

 

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Cecilia Grugan is a 2018 AAPD Summer Intern. She interned with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

From Anger to Action: Understanding Accessibility on College Campuses

October 5, 2018 | Morgan Dunnigan, 2018 AAPD Summer Intern

The summer after my sophomore year of high school, my parents and I decided that I should do a college summer program to experience independent living as a wheelchair user. Once I found the criminal justice program that interested me, I went on the university’s website to confirm that it was accessible under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which it was. With that in mind, I disclosed my disability on my application and was accepted into the program a few weeks later.

Unfortunately, I soon learned that the label of “ADA accessible” does not mean that getting around will necessarily be easy, nor does it take into the account the lack of understanding that some people have about what it means to be accessible.

My first indication that this university summer staff did not understand what it meant to accommodate a disability came on move-in day. I specifically said I would like a roommate but would need an accessible room. When I arrived, the staff had decided not to give me a roommate. When I went to breakfast the first morning, I had to call the main office, where they explained to me that while the campus is ADA accessible, I would have to cut through an academic building, take its elevator down a level, go outside and into a different elevator, take that elevator down another level, and walk through a basement parking garage to get to the cafeteria. Accessible? Technically. Easily accessible? Nope. The person in charge of the summer program had made it very clear to counselors that they were not permitted to touch my wheelchair, even if I needed help, because the university feared liability. While I didn’t really need their help anyway, it was frustrating to watch their nervousness when I was around them.

When the students in our my program took a weekend excursion to a nearby city, the summer program director informed me that I would have to hire a university student to follow me around for the day in case I needed help pushing my wheelchair. I did not need help, I looked like I had a stalker, and I had to pay the student out of my own pocket. All these negative experiences were difficult for me to deal with as a 15-year-old, but at the very least they taught me to advocate for myself and made me aware of what structural and institutional barriers can exist for a wheelchair user in college.

Once I understood that the label of “ADA accessible” can sometimes mean very little about ease of accessibility, I decided that any college I considered attending as a student I would visit in person to determine how accessible it truly is. I also understand that some people retain outdated ideas about what people with disabilities are capable of and try to make decisions for us, as was evident by the blatant rejection of my request to have a roommate and in forcing me to hire an aide. Now, I take action to ensure that the people at my college know what I am capable of with the right support, and that they can trust my judgment.

 

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Morgan Dunnigan is a 2018 AAPD Summer Intern. She interned with the Information Technology Industry Council.

Excited Exploration

September 18, 2018 | Benard Bampoh, 2018 AAPD Summer Intern

In 1986, then-President Ronald Reagan signed the Air Carrier Access Act, enabling people with disabilities to travel on airplanes with assistance from airport agents upon request. But air travel today still poses many discouraging challenges for disabled people. The process of traveling with a disability must be changed to make room for excitement and the desire to explore.

According to this one pager from Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, more than 30,000 disability-related complaints were filed with airlines in 2015 alone. Some common reasons for complaints are damages to assistive devices and delayed assistance at airports. Disabled people are not excited about air transportation the way it is now.
An airport agent explained that some disabled people also feel like a burden when requesting assistance, making them less likely to travel. That is not an unfounded concern because many reported agent injuries result from physically transferring disabled passengers on and off airplanes. If the agents get hurt, one can only imagine the endured experience of the person with a disability.

With the psychological tension of being a burden, and the helpless frustration at a destroyed freedom-giving assistive device, current air travel is simply not worth the hassle for disabled people. But as societies grow increasingly interconnected, those who travel will have fuller lives. Thus, an amendment is needed. The process of traveling with a disability must be changed to make room for excitement and the desire to explore.

Thankfully, the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act strives for that. It was introduced by Senator Tammy Baldwin in 2017 and by House Representative James Langevin in 2018. A summary is provided at congress.gov. Congress is yet to approve it. Should the bill pass, airplanes would be made wheelchair accessible (like public ground transportation now is, thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act). Wheelchairs would be secured inside plane cabins with all the other chairs. The Air Carrier Access Amendments Act would solve four problems:

  • Significantly disabled people could stay in their wheelchairs, which are—by design—the most supportive place for us. Air travel would no longer involve loss of physical stability and comfort.
  • Airport agents would avoid injuries from transferring disabled passengers from their wheelchairs to aisle chairs to plane seats, and then repeating the whole process in reverse when the flight is over.
  • Airport agents would avoid injuries from lifting heavy wheelchairs and other assistive devices into the plane’s cargo or storage compartment. Some airports do not have lifts to assist in loading items into the plane. At such airports, the strength of the agents would be preserved for lifting baggage, not assistive devices.
  • Airport agents would not need to handle expensive assistive devices and risk damaging them.

In short, wheelchair accessible planes will be good for airport agents as well as disabled passengers. Air travel is an exciting and exploratory experience for non-disabled (temporarily able-bodied) people. It can be the same for physically disabled people thanks to the Air Carrier Access Amendments Act.

 

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Benard Bampoh is a 2018 Summer Intern. He interned with American Airlines at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

Honor 28 Years of the ADA by Exercising your Civil Right to Vote!

REV UP! for the ADA - Register! Educate! Vote! Use your Power! Make the DISABILITY VOTE count!

REV UP for the ADA

July 26, 2018

Today marks the 28th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This landmark disability rights legislation – signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990 – prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all places that are open to the general public.

The ADA came about due to the tireless advocacy of the disability community and our allies. AAPD’s exhibit on Google’s Cultural Institute celebrates just some of the many groups and people who made the ADA possible, explores how and why it was passed, and concludes by looking at some of the major challenges we’re facing now.

The ADA changed America, but there is a lot of work left to be done. Our REV UP Issues Guide highlights the major issues, legislation, and regulations that have a significant impact on people with disabilities. Do your part to protect the ADA and the health and liberty of all disabled Americans – educate yourself about the issues and exercise your civil right to vote on November 6!

Open Style Lab: Bringing Fashion to the Disabled Community

The accessible fashion nonprofit proves that clothes are more than just looking pretty

 

Image of a young man using a power wheelchair. He is wearing a zip-back jacket that is a multi-season jacket that offers the possibility of independent donning and doffing.

This zip-back jacket is a multi-season jacket that offers the possibility of independent donning and doffing to former OSL client Justin, a high schooler with muscular dystrophy and scoliosis.

March 23, 2018 | Irene Park

Fashion is a lot like cooking or engineering: Most people assume that if you want to say you’re “in” any of those fields, you have to be really, really good.

But if you crack an egg in a pan and fry it, you’re cooking. If you place a rubber band around your thumb and index finger and use it as a slingshot, you’re engineering.

And if you put on clothing in any meaningful way — heck, if you’ve ever just put on clothing — guess what? That’s fashion.

The misconception that fashion is only for the most dedicated of designer chasers is why fashion often ranks low on the list of concerns for people with disabilities. After all, people will say, what’s looking pretty compared to getting a properly configured wheelchair or making sure my insurance covers my medications?

Such thinking quickly goes to the wayside when you consider the often considerable dressing challenges experienced by people with disabilities. It’s tricky to pull on pants without standing up, or button a shirt with limited mobility in your hands.

Throw in all those functions of life that require you to not just having any clothing on, but being properly dressed — like job interviews, weddings, and funerals — and you can easily understand how not having many sartorial options negatively impacts one’s self-confidence, social and professional success, and sense of self.

“I’ve always wanted a business suit as part of my professional wardrobe, but I’ve never been able to find one that I could wear,” says Emily Ladau, an OSL fall 2017 client. “Traditional suit jackets and the physical limitations of my disability don’t mix.”

Open Style Lab (OSL) at Parsons School of Design in New York City is actively striving to change this. Led by executive director and Parsons assistant professor of fashion Grace Jun, the nonprofit pairs design and tech students to create unique wearables for clients with disabilities. Not only do these articles of clothing and accessories represent one’s personality and taste, but they also actually function in a way that fits and even improves the individual’s lifestyle.

“Fashion provides a space for the self and ownership of the body,” Jun says. And that’s paramount for people with disabilities, especially those who are self-conscious about their bodies and disabilities.

Another key aspect of OSL’s model: clients are actively involved in the design process. This is a key difference from most mass-produced accessible fashion, where products are created without consulting the disabled clientele they seek to serve. This too often results in a severe disconnect between how nondisabled people perceive accessibility needs, and what disabled individuals actually need.

“That smile we show when we look into a mirror and see a piece of garment that illustrates our individuality — Open Style Lab is breaking down the barriers that have kept those smiles from the faces of millions of people with different qualities and abilities,” says Quemuel Arroyo, an OSL Summer 2017 client.

OSL’s work doesn’t stop with just making the clothing. It’s laying the foundation for the kind of collaborative, interdisciplinary design that accessible fashion — and really, any accessibility-related service — needs to truly meet client needs. It does so by bringing in top players in accessible design, technology, and healthcare to collectively provide their expertise to the student designers.

In related fashion, OSL is also conducting valuable accessible design research, collecting data both on individual garments created and the design process itself. Such research lays the foundation for future work in accessible services at large, not just by fashion brands, but even companies like Lufthansa.

“Overall, Open Style Lab is a thought leader on raising awareness for the lack of functional yet stylish clothing,” Jun says. “We are an inclusive team from all disciplines and walks of life. From disability activists like Christina Mallon to a managing partner of an architecture design firm, the people who shape OSL are truly diverse. In partnership with Parsons School of Design, we see a future that is accessible.”

If you have a disability and you’re interested in volunteering as a client, visit the website at http://www.openstylelab.com to find out more details about OSL’s yearlong programs. Designers who are not Parsons students can become involved by applying for the more intensive Summer Fellowship iteration of OSL’s fall and spring offerings.

 

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Irene Park is a freelance writer and graphic designer, producing content for clients including Open Style Lab at Parsons School of Design.

Connected Technologies Help People with Disabilities Transcend Barriers – Is Unemployment Next?

March 19, 2018 | Susan Diegelman, AAPD Board Member

Over the past few years, the promise of connected technology for people with disabilities has developed into an expectation. Now that the deployment of 5G networks — the next generation of wireless Internet — has truly begun, the Internet will increasingly support more sensors and devices, which will help bring this promise to bear in amazing ways.

We are already seeing connected technologies help people with disabilities accomplish a wide range of essential daily tasks like starting the dishwasher, boarding a city bus, or remembering to take medication on time. And as the new 5G network delivers lower latency and better battery life, devices for independent living will become invaluable tools to enable an even-further expanded range of activity.

As important as these types of 5G-powered devices will be, they only represent a start to the innovative possibilities and problem-solving that high-speed wireless broadband can unlock. Could 5G-connected cars mean a driverless future where blind people can drive independently? Could connected technologies be used to solve complex problems for people with disabilities like unemployment?

Employment, as we know, goes hand-in-hand with independence. Too often people with disabilities who don’t have the assistance they need are put at a disadvantage in the job market. In fact, the National Federation of the Blind estimates that almost 70% of people who are blind or low vision are unemployed. That’s unacceptable. And with new connected technology, we can do more than ever before to chip away at a deficit like that. Can you imagine, a connected technology company directing resources and using novel approaches to tackle this issue?

Now, there’s no need to imagine. Aira, a rapidly growing assistive technology subscription service, has recently announced the Aira Employment Program, a free service for job seekers already subscribed to Aria who are blind or low vision to use as they navigate the employment process. Aira uses smart glasses to stream live video — as well as GPS and web data — to a remote, human agent who then offers real-time, on-demand assistance.

People use Aira not only to complete a variety of daily tasks but to work toward the employment they deserve by searching online job postings, filling out applications, and updating resumes. The service even helps job seekers travel to and from interviews and pick out what to wear, with any cost for service minutes used on these activities covered by Aira.

As the 5G wireless Internet is deployed to more people, assistive technologies will become more integral to addressing boundaries to visual information and transportation. Let’s applaud Aira and encourage more companies like them to invest in the communities they serve.

 

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Susan Diegelman is Director of Public Affairs at AT&T and Secretary of the AAPD Board of Directors. She works with advocates across all areas of disability to understand how technology can support independent living and improve lives.

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