Reflecting on the ADA with UCP Staff and Interns

Coauthored by Sara Shemali and James O’Connor

Two women pose for a photo in front of the Capitol Building. One of the women is using an electric wheelchair.

“When I was 15 or 16 years old my best friend, my sister and I decided to go out for ice cream. We went to a new shop in the town nearby. Even though it was a new building, it was an old style ice cream shop that had been built to invoke that aesthetic; and, there was no ramp in the front of the store– only steps. The only ramp was in the back, leading up to the emergency exit. The employees told us they weren’t allowed to let us in through the back door. We were shocked but, after arguing and getting nowhere, we went someplace else. When we got home, I was still pretty upset. When my mom asked what happened, we told her the story. And she explained to me that what I had experienced was discrimination and illegal under the ADA. I think that was the first time I really understood what the ADA meant for me as a person with a disability.“

 

This is what our supervisor, Karin Hitselberger, said when asked about her most memorable experience of the ADA as a child. We spoke to her and Kaitlyn Meuser, the Marketing Specialist here at United Cerebral Palsy’s National Office, right before today’s 27th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because we wanted to gain insight into the many ways that the ADA has shaped the experiences of individuals with disabilities in America.

 

As Program and Development interns for UCP’s National Office, James and I started our summer with a lot to learn about the history of the disability rights movement. We both carried what turned out to be fairly common misconceptions about the ADA, and we asked Karin and Kaitlyn, who both happen to have cerebral palsy, about some of those most common misconceptions.

 

For me, learning more about the ADA throughout my internship, I realized just how comprehensive of a piece of legislation the ADA is. Whereas some may know it only as the law that regulates curb cuts and ramps, or just an anti-discrimination law, in reality it serves both of those purposes in addition to many more. Karin continued by highlighting just how multifaceted the ADA is. She pointed out the misconception and tendency to discuss the ADA in only one of its many capacities, without appreciating the diverse avenues in which it helps individuals with disabilities.

 

Karin also discussed the pivotal role that individuals with disabilities played in crafting the ADA. While the role of passionate allies cannot be overlooked, the engagement of individuals who encounter the barriers that the ADA addresses daily was crucial to passing the ADA law that we know today.

 

As a person without a disability, I had experienced the ADA in action even before I became an intern at UCP, although I had always witnessed it as an outside observer. One vivid memory I will always remember is a neighbor of mine, with cerebral palsy, whose mother had to advocate for him to be involved in gym class, and given the reasonable accommodations he needed to participate. Gym class was a privilege I had always taken for granted, but he had to fight to be afforded the opportunity I had. Interning at UCP has allowed me to step out of my bystander role and become more informed and involved on issues related to disability. Instances of discrimination in schools, hiring, and the workplace still occur today, but one point both Karin and Kaitlyn brought up was that because of the passage of the ADA, such discrimination is illegal (such as refusal to provide reasonable accommodations), and action can be taken to stop these practices. The ADA sets a baseline: a clear standard for inclusion, which is not only vital in itself but also opens the door to continue the conversation about disability and the next steps towards truly equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities.

 

My fellow intern James shares his perspective below:

 

When I started my summer here at UCP National, I was at least aware of the existence of the ADA, but was not even close to understanding its importance. As I have gotten to know more people who have been personally impacted by this legislation, and learned more about the history of the disability rights movement, I’ve come to understand how transformative the ADA has been to the disability community. It has enabled so many people to work, travel, and access the world around them.

 

My experience at UCP has allowed me to connect the curb-cuts and accessible elevators, that I see everyday, to the freedom and rights of the friends I have made here. I’ve had the pleasure of traveling to and from various events with Karin, who uses a wheelchair, and have had to rethink so much that I previously took for granted. I now find myself constantly looking for ramps and elevators, and generally reevaluating the accessibility of my surroundings. It really has fundamentally changed the way that I see the world, and I feel that I am beginning to understand how important the ADA is as a result.

 

Although the ADA is a much-needed starting point for legislation regarding disability, Karin and Kaitlyn agree there is more work that needs to be done to remove substantial barriers that individuals with disabilities still face. Getting into buildings is a right that needs to be afforded to individuals with disabilities, but access to the building itself is not the end of accessibility. Karin points out that physically having the ability to get into a movie theatre isn’t enough if a wheelchair user wouldn’t have anywhere to sit, or if there are no closed captions for someone who is Deaf. Cultural inclusion and universal design for individuals with disabilities are both still a work in progress.

 

While there is work remaining to continue to advance the rights of people with disabilities, it is of paramount importance to reflect on how much closer the ADA has brought us towards the ideals of equality and civil rights for all people.

Champions of Change Honored at White House

WHChaps 1This week, staff from UCP National, along with several participants in our summer intern program, attended the Champions of Change ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C. The program, “Disability Advocacy Across Generations” recognized the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act and nine “Champions of Change” selected by the Obama administration. Each champion has been very influential in the disability community and has brought about major changes, while facing obstacles of their own.

Champion Dilshad Ali, a mother of a son with autism, spoke about how disability is something that is hidden and never spoken of in her Muslim community. Ali discussed the importance of being able to access the support of one’s religious or cultural institutions as part of a panel on Effective Disability Advocacy. There was also Dior Vargas, a Latina woman who suffers with depression and anxiety. Vargas emphasized how many times disabilities are ‘invisible’, and therefore go unnoticed. She brought an interesting aspect to the table, and channeled people’s focus on another kind of disability, mental illnesses, which are often left out of the conversation on disability advocacy.

The day’s speakers included Jim Abbott, a former MLB pitcher and Olympian born without a right hand. Abbott has faced physical obstacles his whole life – especially in sports. He spoke about how he had to do things a little bit differently, but that is what got him to where he is today. He showed the audience how he adapted to pitching a baseball with one hand, and told stories about how former teachers and coaches who were open to “doing things differently,” giving him the opportunity to excel.

Another panel on Owning the Future: Disability, Diversity and Leadership included some Champions, who faced more communication barriers than others. Mike Ellis, who is deaf, explained more about his role at AT &T and working to ensure communication technology was accessible to all. Another champion, Catherine Hutchinson, experienced a severe brain injury and is now quadriplegic used a speech synthesizer to communicate.

At the end of the second panel, Derrick Coleman from the SuperBowl champion Seattle Seahawks worked to motivate the crowd to follow their dreams. He lost his hearing at the age of 3 and is the first deaf player in the NFL. Coleman told the audience to be themselves and love themselves.

U.S Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez closed out the event with information about current initiatives to improve upon worker rights, such as raising the federal minimum wage for all workers and echoed some of the panelist’s comments about the importance of participation in the workforce to true inclusion and independence.

United Cerebral Palsy & Capability Scotland Celebrate Efforts to Advance the Rights of People with Disabilities

British Ambassador & Lady Sheinwald Graciously Host Event at Embassy Residence

Actor & United Cerebral Palsy Board Trustee Cheryl Hines Helped Commemorate Anniversaries of Americans with Disabilities Act & Disability Discrimination Act

 

Washington, DC (June 18, 2010) – United Cerebral Palsy (UCP), a leading service provider and advocate for children and adults with disabilities, along with UCP affiliate Capability Scotland, and by kind permission of the British Ambassador and Lady Sheinwald, commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the 15th anniversary of the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) in the United Kingdom. The event honored the efforts of those who created these landmark laws and continue to work to achieve a Life Without Limits for people with disabilities yesterday evening at the at the Embassy Residence of the British Ambassador in Washington, DC.

“The excitement generated at last night’s event hosted by the British Ambassador and Lady Sheinwald is a critical step in our global movement to achieve a Life Without Limits for people with disabilities,” said Stephen Bennett, former President & CEO, United Cerebral Palsy. “Celebrating historic pieces of civil rights legislation that radically changed the lives of all people with disabilities – the Americans with Disabilities Act and the UK’s Disability Discrimination Act – compound how far we have come in the last 60 years since United Cerebral Palsy was founded. We should use the 20th and 15th anniversaries of this legislation as benchmarks for the key landmarks that will come next for people with disabilities. We must sustain a movement with a single goal: ensuring a life without limits for people with disabilities.”

In addition to the hosts, British Ambassador & Lady Sheinwald, attendees included Actor and UCP Board Trustee Cheryl HinesAlan Dickson, Chief Executive, Capability Scotland; Stephen Bennett, former President & CEO, United Cerebral Palsy; Bruce Merlin Fried, Chair, Board of Trustees, United Cerebral Palsy; Joe Stettinius, President, Cassidy Turley, the event’s Transatlantic Underwriter; Linda, Jack and David Maguire; current and former legislators; government officials; corporate leaders; advocates; members of the United Cerebral Palsy Board of Trustees, the majority of whom are people, or part of family, impacted by disabilities; and embassy staff.

Also in attendance were the United Cerebral Palsy Young Benefactors, a new group of young men and women who support, communicate and extend the vision of Life Without Limits for people with disabilities and transform the cause to bring this vision closer to reality.

Photos
Please contact Lauren Cozzi for event photos or a high resolution headshot of Cheryl Hines.

British Ambassador’s blog
An overview of last night’s event, written by the British Ambassador, is available on his blog. http://blogs.fco.gov.uk/roller/sheinwald/entry/united_cerebral_palsy_capability_scotland

About United Cerebral Palsy
Founded more than 60 years ago by parents of children with cerebral palsy, today United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) is a leading service provider and advocate for children and adults with disabilities. The UCP mission is to advance the independence, productivity and full citizenship of people with disabilities through an affiliate network. This includes approximately 100 local service providers reaching more than 176,000 individuals daily in the U.S., Canada, Scotland and Australia. The national office in Washington DC advocates on behalf of individuals with disabilities; advances federal disability public policy (Disability Policy Collaboration); and develops forward-thinking programs like Life Without Limits and My Child Without Limits. For more information, please visit www.UCP.org.

About Capability Scotland
Like United Cerebral Palsy (UCP), Capability Scotland was founded over 60 years ago by parents of children with cerebral palsy. Today, the organisation campaigns with, and provides education, employment and support services to, disabled children and adults across Scotland in order that they achieve equality and have choice and control in their lives. For more information, please visit the Capability Scotland website:www.capability-scotland.org.uk.

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