There are ordinary, everyday actions that people often don’t think about. Such as the ability to move your arms, legs, see and hear.
Now, pick one of those and think about what life would be like without it. For example, imagine you couldn’t walk very well, or not at all. Say you want to meet up with friends at a restaurant, and when you get there a flight of stairs stands between you and the entrance. Or what if you couldn’t see well and they have no enlarged menus?
This is what life is like every day for a person with a disability, including myself.
I was born at 28 weeks and weighed three pounds and a quarter of an ounce at birth. As a result of being so early, I have brain damage that causes me to have epilepsy, auditory neuropathy (a type of hearing loss) and cerebral palsy in my legs. But the point of this column is not to tell my life story. It is to talk about how disabled people are a minority and why the lack of accessibility is a problem.
The Americans With Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990 by former president George H.W. Bush. The five titles of the ADA cover employment, state and local government, public accommodations, telecommunications and miscellaneous provisions. Under this law, disabled people supposedly should not have to encounter many barriers in life. Right?
In 2017, there were an estimated 320 million Americans with a disability, or approximately 12.7 percent of the population. Despite this huge number of disabled people, there is still discrimination and lack of accessibility nearly 29 years after the ADA was made a law.
Bonny Folz, a physical therapist at the Kids Center for Pediatric Therapies in Louisville, Ky., has practiced for more than 30 years. Over this time period, she said, “I feel that many positive things have happened, especially within our physical structures. However, I continue to see greater limitations in how we as individuals look at those who may appear, sound or move differently from ourselves or how we feel the norm is.”
Today’s society lacks the understanding and accommodations needed for people who are different – those who don’t fit what they see as the norm. It’s a reminder that not all people see disabled people as equal, or even as people. Unfortunately, the president is among those.
During a campaign rally in 2016, now president Donald Trump mocked the arm movements of a disabled New York Times reporter. Also, in 2018, some found his comments on the Paralympics offensive. He said, “it’s a little tough to watch too much, but I watched as much as I could.” How can discrimination get better for people with disabilities when our own president makes fun of disabled people? Society needs to learn to not judge people based on first impressions of how they talk, walk or look.
For example, a deaf woman named Amanda Koller recently told NPR about her struggles to get a job despite the fact that she’s working on her second master’s degree. She described how potential employers got frustrated with her needs and impatient while interviewing her.
How is this okay? An extremely smart, well-educated woman can’t get a job because employers simply get frustrated? This might seem like a rare occurrence, but a statistic provided by NPR showed that less than 40 percent of deaf people work full time.
In a USA Today article published on Jan. 8, a paraplegic named Tyler Schilhabel shared how lack of accessibility nearly ruined his honeymoon trip. On the first flight, he had to be carried off a plane by a flight attendant to ensure that he made his next flight on time. On his return trip, the plane didn’t have the aisle chair he requested, so he had to scoot down to the very back of the plane on the floor to reach his seat.
This is not right and something needs to change. All disabled people want to be is independent, and when we’re forced into situations that put us on the spot it’s humiliating and demeaning.
We have the ADA for a good reason, but society hasn’t caught up. We should be able to get jobs. We should be able to get on an airplane. We should be able to go out with friends and not worry about how we’re going to read the menu, or get into the building.
There needs to be change to prevent situations like those of Koller and Schilhabel. Even if you are not disabled, you can be an advocate for change.
“The environment will never be totally barrier free, but our eyes can be,” Folz said. “We all need to see the worth of those around us, no matter if they talk differently, (or) move differently….We all have strengths. We need to point those out, not distinguish.”
Written by Greta Reel
Photo by Kyle Tincher