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.

UNITED CEREBRAL PALSY JOINS BROAD EFFORT TO OBSERVE NATIONAL DISABILITY EMPLOYMENT AWARENESS MONTH

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

CONTACT:
Alicia Kubert Smith: 202.973.7168, akubertsmith@ucp.org

UNITED CEREBRAL PALSY JOINS BROAD EFFORT TO OBSERVE NATIONAL DISABILITY EMPLOYMENT AWARENESS MONTH 

 

Nationwide campaign will take place in October 

 

Washington, DC (October 1, 2012) – United Cerebral Palsy today announced its participation in National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM), an annual awareness campaign that takes place each October. The purpose of National Disability Employment Awareness Month is to educate about disability employment issues and celebrate the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities.

The history of NDEAM traces back to 1945, when Congress enacted a law declaring the first week in October each year “National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week.” In 1962, the word “physically” was removed to acknowledge the employment needs and contributions of individuals with a spectrum of disabilities. In 1988, Congress expanded the week to a month and changed the name to National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

“Employers who ensure that inclusive workplace policies and practices are woven into the fabric and culture of the organization create an environment that encourages all workers — including those of us with disabilities — to work to their full capacity and contribute fully to the organization’s success,” said Kathy Martinez, assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy when announcing this year’s National Disability Employment Awareness Month theme, which is “A Strong Workforce is an Inclusive Workforce: What Can YOU Do?” The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) leads National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

“United Cerebral Palsy is proud to support National Disability Employment Awareness Month. It is important to break the preconceived notions that often hinder creating an inclusive workforce. Individuals with disabilities bring many contributions to the workplace and together we can help break down barriers to employment. A diverse workforce is advantageous to both the employees and the employer,” said Stephen Bennett, former President & CEO of UCP.

Employers and employees in all industries can learn more about how to participate in National Disability Employment Awareness Month and ways they can promote its messages — during October and throughout the year — by visiting the ODEP website at www.dol.gov/odep/. Additional employment resources can be found on the UCP website, and throughout the month special events and webinars will be promoted on the UCP’s Twitter and Facebook page.

# # #

 

About United Cerebral Palsy
United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) educates, advocates and provides support services through an affiliate network to ensure a life without limits for people with a spectrum of disabilities. Together with nearly 100 affiliates, UCP has a mission to advance the independence, productivity and full citizenship of people with disabilities by supporting more than 176,000 children and adults every day—one person at a time, one family at a time. UCP works to enact real change—to revolutionize care, raise standards of living and create opportunities—impacting the lives of millions living with disabilities. For more than 60 years, UCP has worked to ensure the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in every facet of society. Together, with parents and caregivers, UCP will continue to push for the social, legal and technological changes that increase accessibility and independence, allowing people with disabilities to dream their own dreams, for the next 60 years, and beyond. For more information, please visit www.ucp.org.