25 Ways the Americans with Disabilities Act Sparked Positive Change in the United States

With the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) fast approaching, plans for celebrations are launching into high gear. I love any reason to join a party, so I’m obviously pretty excited.

But let’s get serious – ADA 25 is an awe-inspiring, momentous occasion that deserves the highest honor. On July 26, 1990, the world-changing disability rights movement leaders who fought so hard for the U.S. government to ensure the rights of the disability community finally achieved victory when President Bush, Sr. signed the ADA into law. They are some of my biggest heroes, these activists who put themselves on the front-lines to spark change for generations to come.

And now, the time is here to honor the legacy of the ADA and its rich history.

I’m a big fan of lists, so what better way to show a little love to the ADA than to share a list of all of the important ways the ADA has brought change to the United States?

25 Ways the Americans with Disabilities Act Sparked Positive Change in the United States

1) Curb cuts

2) More equal opportunities for people with all types of disabilities to receive a public education

3) Increased accessible public transportation

4) Service animals are more accepted in public

5) Reasonable accommodations

6) Greater social involvement among the disability community in all areas of society

7) More civic engagement, i.e. voting

8) Expanded employment opportunities for disabled people

9) Gives a stronger voice to the world’s largest minority

10) Provides a platform of civil rights for the disability community

11) Disabled athletes can thrive in adaptive sports

12) Support systems exist for people with all types of disabilities

13) Misconceptions and prejudices can be more easily debunked

14) There is a bigger presence of disability in the media

15) Adaptive products are more widely available.

16) There is a bigger focus on studying disability in academia

17) Paved the way for further legislative policy advancement for disability rights

18) Serves as a common bond for all people with disabilities in the United States

19) Provides a legal basis to maintain momentum in pursuing accessibility and justice

20) Automatic door openers have become much more common in public places

21) Helps prevent discriminatory actions or retaliation

22) Social recognition of disabled people as full, contributing citizens

23) Acts as a symbol of disability pride and culture

24) Serves as a reminder of the positive potential of bipartisanship

25) Created a legacy for current and future generations of young activists as we carry the torch forward

Within this list, decades of progress are reflected. Yet, I know the work of disability rights advocates is far from finished. I know that on days when we, as disabled people, face discrimination or access barriers, we may find ourselves forgetting the battles that have already been fought. We must remember, though, the immense passion and dedication of the activists whose ADA victory was hard-won. We must never take for granted the progress society has made in the past 25 years, and in the next 25 years, the disability community and non-disabled allies alike must continue to work to honor the legacy of generations before us by continuing to roll forward the wheels of progress and change.

The Complexities of “Curing” Disabilities

The Complexities of "Curing Disabilities" by Words I Wheel By

I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked variations of the question: “If there was a pill that could cure your disability, would you take it?” Though the short answer is a resounding “No!” I rarely get the chance to elaborate on the complex feelings and emotions that are behind my answer.

Here’s the long answer: I definitely have moments where the thought of an instant cure gives me pause. I wonder what life might be like as an able-bodied version of myself. I try to envision myself walking around the mall or running after a soccer ball. I try to picture myself climbing a tree or jumping rope. But thinking about these things is mind-bending for me because they’re not part of my life. And I’m okay with that. I don’t have a burning desire to walk or run or climb or jump like an able-bodied person, because such actions have never been part of my life to begin with. Since I was born with my disability, I don’t feel that anything was taken away from me. It’s simply not possible to miss something I never experienced.

I think “cure” is actually a rather loaded term in relation to my disability, because to cure something implies that you are returning the body to its normal state.  My disability is my normal state. To cure me in accordance with the medical definition of the word would not only give me new abilities, but also essentially transform me into a whole new person. I can’t imagine myself as an able-bodied person, because I never was an able-bodied person. I’ve embraced my disability as a huge facet of my identity, and I take pride in it.

While I don’t define myself solely by my disability, having a disability has undeniably shaped who I am. Without my lived experiences as a disabled person, I would be a completely different Emily. And as tough as certain aspects of my life have been, and though I know I will continue to face disability-related challenges throughout my life, I wouldn’t trade my life for a minute. My disability has given me a place in a community and a culture; it has been the reason why I’ve had amazing adventures and unforgettable experiences. To walk freely up and down stairs for one day would never measure up to the things I’ve done because I have a disability.

So, my answer is still no. No, I would not take a pill for a cure. That being said, it’s not my place to judge another person for answering “yes.” I understand that disability is a highly unique experience from one person to the next, and I can’t say that my opinions on “curing” disability are the only way to think about it. For instance, it is completely reasonable to search for cures for degenerative or painful diseases and disabilities. If I could take a pill to cure the pain I experience, I would do that in a heartbeat. But I don’t want to change who I am. We should be looking to cure the pain, not the person.

We should not be trying to cure disability or disease because society sees it as something to devalue. And for that matter, if the reasoning behind “curing” disability is about eradicating differences from society, then I think we should cure society’s ableism instead. We should make it a priority to eliminate access barriers and prejudiced mindsets, rather than focusing on eliminating disabilities. But to find ways to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life for people – those are the right reasons to support finding cures.

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