ADA celebrates its 17th anniversary

Seven years ago I remember getting a sticker from a disability agency that celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I put it on my wheelchair and had a few people stop me when I was out and about and ask “What is the ADA?”

Those were teachable moments, times when I could explain to people what the ADA was and its purposes.

Seven years later, if I was asked that question, I’d be surprised. Most people know what the ADA is now. At least they know what the words stand for – or that it’s “about people with disabilities”. What I’m not sure some people understand is the purpose behind the ADA – which can be mistaken for a law that guarantees entitlement and sometimes engenders resentment. Sadly this biased view of the ADA has been touted in media coverage at times, one that ignores the legislation’s purpose.

I think of the car dealer who admitted he gave a disabled customer a higher price and told me that he had to put a ramp in so someone had to make up the difference. Or the veterinarian who complained to me that she was sued by a wheelchair user like me when there was no access and, no , she didn’t want to treat my pet. Countless people who have told me as an advocate how much they resent making accommodations for the disabled. Or, shockingly, my experiences with being told at times that churches are exempt from the ADA – and don’t ‘have to’ do anything “for disabled people”.

On some days as I advocate I encounter so much backlash from the progress we’ve made that I find myself reeling.How sad that none of these folks understand the true purpose behind the ADA. Inclusion. Having a society where everyone can participate, where people can freely come and go, socialize, work, drive, and enjoy a full and productive life. And, yes, worship freely and be included socially at the table too as a full member of a congregation.

Churches may be exempt from the ADA legally, but are not exempt from inclusion morally. I could write volumes about how sad it is when inclusion is ignored in a church setting or spiritual community and pushed to the back burner as if it can just wait. How sad. For them. Because in their denial that work toward inclusion needs to be done, they not only continue to miss out on true community where everyone can fully participate, but fail to adhere to the tenets of the very faith they gather to celebrate.

I’m mindful that, in all of these situations, what some people don’t see is the full picture. Yes, they know seven years later that the ADA is a law for disabled people.

Maybe, given more time, more people will learn what its true purpose is.

Copyright 2007 Ruth Harrigan

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