Happy Birthday ADA
Representative Tony Coelho shares the reasons he introduced The Americans With Disabilities Act in Congress in the late 80s. Tony Coelho also is a strong supporter of Partners in Policymaking.
Tony Coelho had epilepsy and used his life experiences to make a difference for thousands of people with disabilities and their families, not only in the present, but in the future.
What Can I Do?
When I get discouraged and can’t solve basic day to day problems for Aaron, my son with autism, I try to look at the big picture.
ADA is only 22 years old. Think about it.
The US Constitution is over 200 years old and we still have lots of issues to resolve. 22 years is just infancy in the lifespan of the ADA civil rights legislation. So we have made progress, but there is still lots to do.
After my recent surgery I went to our local community center and joined the seniors swim hour. I was shocked to see that there was no railing going down into the pool. Since I was wobbly and certainly didn’t want to fall again, I needed a railing.
I watched the other seniors (many of whom were also wobbly) hold on a low wall and scoot as best they could to enter the water. I saw one gentleman almost fall.
Now, this was my first day in the community center. I went there to try and get healthy. Meet some new friends; distance myself from “disability world.”
I noticed the pool had a lift for people who needed it. The pool also had a large zero grade entrance where a person could just walk into the water without any steps. This insured no steps, but didn’t solve the problem for someone who needed a railing. They did have a three step entrance on the other side of the pool that had a railing.
Technically, this pool met ADA requirements.
But all the seniors using the pool climbed down off this low wall and were in danger of falling.
When I asked the head life guard about it, she just shook her head and said, “I agree it is a problem, but no one listens to me.” She suggested I could take my walker into the pool if I wanted, or she could hold my arm and assist me.
I looked at my walker and it was aluminum, but it had holes where you could adjust for height and the water would surely get in there. I could just picture my walker dripping water all through my house—so the walker in water solution wasn’t going to work.
I already felt self-conscious enough, new kid and all, so I really didn’t want a life-guard escorting me into the water.
We solved the problem by having one of the other seniors get into the pool and helping me with that first step. Then I was fine.
Fine, except I now had an 80 year old woman who weighed 100 pounds wet, helping me get into the pool. If either one of us had fallen, I would have squashed her like a waterbug. To say nothing to what this did to my self-esteem and confidence.
As I joined the flow of seniors exercising in the water current, I tried to ignore the whole thing and kept telling myself: “Boundaries Mary!” “Choose your battles.” “Can’t you be normal for once?”
I wanted to be “included” I wanted to belong. I didn’t want to start off causing trouble.
I almost had myself convinced until I had to get out of the pool–Then my advocacy voice started again.
I followed the other seniors out of the water as we all tried to maneuver the low wall and the big step.
And, then you know what happened. I pulled the ADA trump card.
ADA makes a Difference, but only if you use it.
I ask to see the ADA Compliance Officer to file a complaint. The Community Center Director immediately met with me and gave me an official form.
She sincerely said she didn’t know this was an issue and thought the pool met all the requirements. She said she would look into the issues I raised.
I asked if there was an alternative to filing an official complaint. She said they had a form for suggestions and concerns, so I gave her back the ADA complaint form and wrote a long description of the problem.
I figured, as long as I solved the problem, this saved her a lot of paperwork and bought me goodwill.
The Director took the issues seriously. She asked me, “What do you think will solve the problem?”
I suggested she talk with other seniors, the Life Guards, the OT and PT department which uses the pool for their clients (me included). I suggested she watch the arrival and departure of the seniors (basically an ecological assessment). I also suggested she look into the concept of Universal Design.
The Director did her job and I didn’t need to use ADA.
Wait, let me reword that. I used ADA (even if it was just the threat of a compliance violation and paperwork headache.)
The new accessible pool entrance designed by the lifeguards and PT department will be installed in August. Already they have put no-slip mats in the changing areas and installed automatic doors. I feel really good about this. My advocacy worked and made a difference.
When I got the Fall Community Center flyer, I noticed they have a new program to “include” kids in their day programs and camps. I had nothing to do with this, but someone did. Some advocate spoke up… now current and future children will have more opportunities for inclusion.
I’m reminded of the old UP WITH PEOPLE song: “Freedom isn’t Free.” You have to pay a price, you have to sacrifice for your liberty.
Can you make a difference, too?
As we celebrate the anniversary of ADA. We are standing on the shoulders of those who came before us. Thank you, Tony Coelho. Thank you Justin Dart, Bob Williams and Ed Roberts and the thousands of others who worked so hard to give us a chance at a better life and future.
There are many people who don’t think we need government laws. When ADA passed in 1990, I was only worried about my son Aaron. But today, I am the one using the walker and needing accommodations. Now, I also need ADA.
What can you do?
In the comments can you share your ideas? Is there some way you can make life more accessible either as a professional or as an advocate? Anything that has worked? Not worked?
All my best,