If you need a diversion from the pandemic, talk to Carrissa Johnson. She runs the local office of the Center for Accessible Living (CAL), and wants everyone to join in the celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Enacted on Aug. 26, 1990, and inspired by the legal concepts of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the ADA protects people with disabilities against discrimination, and ensures their full participation in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications.
If you ever used a ramp required by the ADA for wheelchair users to push a stroller or drag a heavy suitcase, you have benefited from the law. Moreover, if closed captioning has ever made it easier for you to view a video in a noisy public space, you are accessing a service originally intended for those with hearing loss. If an automatic door has helped you gain easy entry when your arms are too full to pull open a heavy door, you can thank the ADA.
And those are just some examples.
Thirty years ago, the landscape was littered with obstacles and obscured by sometimes insurmountable barriers for people with disabilities and their caregivers. Ramps, elevators, designated parking spots, and curb cuts were rare. Accommodations for those sight, hearing, or otherwise impaired were rare. People with disabilities were routinely left out of common experiences like going to work and attending school.
Today, most public buses have lifts for wheelchairs; disabled children attend the same schools as their peers; and employers are generally aware that people with disabilities have civil rights that cannot be legally violated.
Through her work with CAL, Carrissa Johnson has been an innovative leader committed to involving the entire community in empowering all people to achieve their goal of independent living. With the onset of a worldwide pandemic, some new challenges have emerged for people with disabilities, and Ms. Johnson wanted to highlight those even as she applauded the accomplishments achieved in 30 years of ADA.
“There are three COVID things I want to talk about,” she began.
Number 1 was about current difficulties securing care attendants for people with disabilities. These workers have become scarce because of their fears of contracting the virus. In turn, those who need assistance are reluctant to risk inviting outsiders in their homes, again because of fear of infection.
The second COVID-related concern Carrissa mentioned was regarding ventilators. Because of the virus, they are in short supply. People with disabilities fear that scarcity might mean their needs for equipment could be supplanted by those being treated for the virus.
Ms. Johnson’s third point was about online ordering, which has become increasingly common. In some cases, food stamps are not accepted for online ordering, and deliveries are only available within limited mileage from the source.
In spite of those issues, Carrissa Johnson is quick to point out positive aspects in the response to the virus. “The use of technology is a plus,” she declared. “And we’ve been able to teach people how to use Zoom, so more are connecting that way.”
More good news came last week, when Governor Andy Beshear signed an executive order to promote integrated employment for people with disabilities. “We are committed to righting inequities and breaking down barriers for our citizens with disabilities who desire to have a meaningful career,” he said.
To do that, the governor designated the Employment First Council to do the following:
• Identify state policies that create disincentives to employment for people with disabilities.
• Develop training and resources that support the benefits of people with disabilities working meaningful and productive jobs within the general workforce.
• Recommend implementation of practices that increase employment opportunities.
• Establish measurable goals to assess the progress of these efforts.
Another resource associated with observing thirty years of the ADA comes from the New York Times, which is creating a series about what it means to live with a disability in America.
For more information on the NYT project, go to https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/disability-ADA-30-anniversary.html.
To find additional background on Gov. Beshear’s Employment First initiative, visit www.employmentfirstky.org.
The Center for Accessible Living is online at https://www.calky.org/.