#HandsOffMyADA – A Member of the ADA Generation’s Take on ADA Notification Bills

November 30, 2018 | Ellie Stitzer, 2018 AAPD Summer Intern

My mentor at my university has a sticker in her office that says “The Americans with Disabilities Act – to boldly go where everyone else has gone before.” This really is what the ADA did: when it passed in 1990, it gave Americans with disabilities protection in their employment, public spaces, and public entities, which are the same protections that everyone else already had. I was born with a disability in 1996, six years after the passage of this historic civil rights legislation, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t use a wheelchair accessible entrance, accessible parking space, a curb cut, or a number of other accommodations provided to me because of the ADA. I can remember learning about the disability rights movement (on my own time, of course, since in my experience schools don’t talk about it) and realizing that I had really lucked out having been born after all that had happened. At the very least, I am thankful that I can say that my expectations and standards for accessibility are a lot higher than they were for people who lived in a pre-ADA America.

But even though the ADA was passed 28 years ago, not everyone has chosen to comply. Just a few days ago, my group of friends wanted to go out to a restaurant they’d heard about online, but when we showed up on the scene the building had a step to get in just BARELY high enough that my wheelchair couldn’t get over it. I run into these kind of access barriers constantly, and whenever it happens my friends and I are forced to be flexible and take our business to the nearest accessible alternative. But hey, at least there’s (usually) an alternative, right?

That’s why when I learned that there were multiple “ADA notification bills” floating around Congress this session, I felt like I had suddenly been time-warped back to before 1990, when people were still trying to prove that disability rights were civil rights. These bills, such as H.R. 620, which actually passed in the House of Representatives, would eliminate incentives for businesses, including large chain corporations, to proactively comply with the ADA and be accessible to those with disabilities. While H.R. 620 seems to have been stopped in the Senate for now, the fact that this bill was even introduced shows that, unfortunately, we are still at a place where we are having to fight to protect these very basic rights that businesses have now had, let me say it again, 28 years to comply with. The ADA laid the groundwork to make sure that my generation was able to grow up with the expectations we did. We need to focus on working towards complete access and strengthening the law, not weakening it like the congressmen and women who supported H.R. 620 seem to prefer.

 

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Ellie Stitzer is a 2018 AAPD Summer Intern. She interned at the Administration for Community Living in the U.S. Department of Health of Human Services.

A Need to Pave the Way Worldwide: International Disability Rights

November 7, 2018 | Johileny Meran, 2018 AAPD Summer Intern

The world has put a microscope on my disability, labeling it as the ultimate challenge, a tragic side effect of an illness or freak accident, something to pray about. But in reality, the challenge is living in a society that refuses to acknowledge that everybody is different.

Born in the Dominican Republic, I saw no positive examples of successful individuals with physical disabilities. It is only now, in my young adult life, that I can accept my disability as a positive aspect of my identity. For perspectives to change, we need to write ourselves into popular narratives. One issue is the portrayal of disabled persons on television. We are usually portrayed as helpless, a secondary or background character. As a senior in high school, I received a scholarship from an award show on the Univision channel. Afterward,  at a basketball game, someone stopped me and asked if her son could take a picture with me. Through tears, she explained the powerful image of me on stage had encouraged him because he saw someone like him. A small act of representation can vastly change disability-focused media.

At the age of 8, I moved to the United States. Eleven years passed before I returned to the Dominican Republic. The difference was shocking. During my trip, I had to be dependent on family members. I couldn’t even step out of the house without two or three people helping to carry me out, and my wheelchair shortly behind me. I felt uncomfortable and discouraged by the reality that if I had grown up in my homeland, I would have never been able to accomplish the same level of independence. It shocked me to think of the stark difference my trajectory would’ve had. As my time on vacation in the Dominican Republic narrowed down, I thought about the kids that were growing up in that restrictive environment. I thought about the type of surroundings needed to develop empowered personalities.

This summer, I had the opportunity to learn about the Disability Integration Act (DIA), a piece of legislation that aims to ensures that disabled Americans have a right to live and receive services in their own homes. It contributes to the fundamental goal of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): assuring the full participation of people with disabilities by allowing individuals to live in the most integrated setting possible. The DIA is still in its primary stages of the legislative process, but both pieces of legislation assert the difference that resources and supports can have on an individual’s ability to be part of their community.

Since the ADA was signed into law, there have been several legal cases regarding certain aspects of the law that impact the lives of people with disabilities. However, other countries like the Dominican Republic don’t have fundamental legislation that affords these rights and supports to fully participate in their societies.

I am determined to be part of a change that guides other countries to offer essential opportunities to children with disabilities that will allow them to reach their full potential. I have decided the way to do this kind of advocacy work is by establishing a career in international disability rights. In the simplest of terms, I would make it my life’s work to ensure that the same rights afforded to able-bodied citizens are just as accessible.

 

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Johileny Meran is a 2018 AAPD Summer Intern. She interned with the National Disability Rights Network.

Increasing and Expanding Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities Worldwide

October 22, 2018 | Luanjiao (Aggie) Hu, 2018 AAPD Summer Intern

People with disabilities make up about 10 to 15 percent of the world population, according to the World Report on Disability. As a massive number of people, our community faces many challenges globally, in the realms of education, employment, health care, and relationships, among others. I am particularly invested in employment issues for people with disabilities for two reasons: 1) my work with the ADA International Fellowship Program on inclusive employment, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and administered by the Association of University Centers on Disabilities (my placement in the AAPD Summer Internship Program), and 2) a conversation I had with Dr. Richard Lytle, formerly of Gallaudet University and a social entrepreneur who is pushing inclusive employment for people with disabilities in China.

It is no news to many that people with disabilities have lower employment rates than those without disabilities globally. “The unemployment rate among adult Americans with disabilities who want to work and can work is over 60%! That is a blot on our national character,” commented Senator Tom Harkin at his farewell speech to the Senate. In some Asia-Pacific countries, the unemployment rate of people with disabilities is as high as over 80%. Researchers have documented the severity of the issue and the importance of employment, especially for marginalized populations. I myself have witnessed how employment discrimination takes place towards people with disabilities in China: a woman with physical disability applying for a software programmer position was denied the interview opportunity when she disclosed her disability to the potential employer; a deaf designer was turned down for a job because of the employer’s claim that their workplace requires a significant amount of verbal communication, despite his excellent designing skills; a person with disability is paid only half the amount a non-disabled coworker receives for the same position. The list of discriminatory examples goes on and on.

Increasing and expanding employment opportunities for people with disabilities is indeed a global concern. From Africa, to Asia, to the Americas, we face similar issues — albeit at slightly different severity levels based on our unique cultural and national contexts. Facilitating exchanges and conversations on best practices among leaders of inclusive employment between different countries, a practice exemplified by the ADA International Fellowship Program, is one of the many ways we can address this global issue. Using one’s multiple talents and network to embark on social enterprises like Communication Access (a business organization that works with multinational corporations in China to hire, train, and retain people with disabilities in workplaces; founded by Dr. Richard Lytle) is another way individuals can contribute in pushing for more meaningful employment for people with disabilities. In both cases, I see the value of collaboration across national borders in addressing employment issues for people with disabilities. Looking beyond one’s national context to see new possibilities and ways of thinking helps inspire us to create more innovative approaches and models that move us closer to our ultimate goals.

 

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Luanjiao (Aggie) Hu is a 2018 AAPD Summer Intern. She interned with the Association of University Centers on Disabilities.

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.

My Take on the CRPD vs. Marrakesh Treaty

September 24, 2018 | Chris Damon-Chronmiller, 2018 AAPD Summer Intern

The following is a culmination of the work I have done this summer as part of my internship with AAPD.  Through my internship this summer, I became aware of an international agreement of sorts known as the Marrakesh Treaty. This agreement aims to improve access to print documents for print-impaired individuals.  To my surprise, I learned that not only did it have bipartisan support, but that it passed unanimously without amendment.  Needless to say this is starkly different from my previous experience with international agreements.

Back in my undergraduate career I held an internship with the U.S. International Council on Disabilities (USICD), and I interned for them again briefly when I was in graduate school.  When I first worked with USICD, one of their top priorities was centered around the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which President Obama had signed in 2009.  Like the Marrakesh treaty, the CRPD also had bipartisan support, with loud champions from both sides of the political aisle. Furthermore, in the words of USICD, the U.S.’s own Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) served as the direct inspiration for the work of the CRPD, which arguably serves to expand the ADA internationally – resulting in easier international travel and ability to work overseas for Americans with disabilities.  However, in 2012, U.S. support for the CRPD fell short of the super majority typically required for ratification of treaties when it came to vote.

Why, then, did the U.S. support one agreement with flying colors while taking such a reserved stance on the other?  The simple answer is that one is affiliated with the United Nations, and the other is affiliated with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).  In my opinion, though, the more complicated answer is that the CRPD opens up a can of worms that the disability community long thought had been buried with the passage of the ADA.  In particular there are some concerns considering health that plague (no pun intended) both pieces of legislation. With the ADA, it was the predicament of whether HIV/AIDS constituted a class that deserved protection. Now, with the CRPD, the supposed question is whether persons with disabilities are granted special access to abortion services.  The question as to the ethics of abortion as a whole is one that I am simply not equipped to answer or address, but that is what some advocates are focused on.

It probably goes without saying that this post is a gross oversimplification of the issues surrounding the Marrakesh treaty and the CRPD, along with my opinion on both.  I look forward to devoting further analysis on the topic in my spare time.

 

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Chris Damon-Cronmiller is a 2018 AAPD Summer Intern. He interned with the Office of Senator Ed Markey (D-MA).

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!

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