Honoring the ADA with the Smithsonian Institution’s Festival ADA: 25 Years of Disability Rights and the Kennedy Center’s 25/40 Celebration Honoring the History, Art, and Culture of the Disability Community

Krista Flores, Program Specialist, Smithsonian Institution

By Guest Blogger Krista Flores, Program Specialist, Accessibility Program, Smithsonian Institution

The weekend of July 24 through 26, 2015 brings a nationwide celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law on July 26th, 1990, capping decades of legal efforts and activism to end discrimination against people with disabilities. To honor this historic event, leaders in the disability rights community, advocates, community members and politicians will gather on the grounds of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History to mark this historic moment and highlight the ADA’s ongoing legacy in American life.

The Smithsonian Institution’s celebration will start on Friday, July 24, 2015, on the terrace of the National Museum of American History with a large discussion stage where topics such as the passage of the ADA, legal issues, advocacy, employment and the future of disability rights will be explored. Also on hand will be exhibits by federal agency partners and workshops in theater, dance, music and visual arts. Visitors can view a modified Corvette race car. There will be a number of hands-on activities and demonstrations. The museum store will host a trunk show of items from artists with disabilities. The celebration will start winding down on Sunday at noon with the ADA birthday party and a reading of a letter from George H.W. Bush along with a visit from the legendary ADA25 Legacy Bus, which has been traveling the country.

Inside the museum, the celebration will continue with a showcase of objects from the national collections that capture the significance and legacy of the ADA through the stories of four people. There will be a film festival of documentaries from filmmakers with disabilities followed by a discussion and a facilitated conversation on Latinos and the ADA. Additionally, actor and performance artist Mat Fraser will perform his one-person, original piece, “Cabinet of Curiosities: How Disability Was Kept in a Box.” Fraser’s creative take on attitudes about disability is equal parts cabaret, incisive lecture and humorous commentary on museum displays of human difference.

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Making a Difference through Research Participation

Kerri Roberts, Research Coordinator with the Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine (CNRM)

By Guest Blogger Kerri Roberts, Research Coordinator with the Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine (CNRM)

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) has been a hot topic in recent years. Due to increased awareness of the potential long term negative consequences of TBI, stemming from the large number of TBIs experienced by service members during conflicts overseas and the deaths of several high-profile NFL players attributed to TBI-related problems, millions of dollars have been invested in research aimed at improving outcomes for individuals with TBI. Although much has been learned about the brain over the past 10 years, there are still gaps in our understanding of what contributes to divergent outcomes among individuals who have experienced TBI, as well as what types of rehabilitation strategies are most effective for recovery. In other words, why do some people recover really well after a TBI and some do not? And what can be done following a TBI to improve outcomes?

The Center for Disease Control estimated that, in 2010, there were approximately 2.2 million emergency department visits and 280,000 hospitalizations as a result of TBI. My question is: what happened to all those people? If, five years ago, we were able to enroll half of those people in research studies and follow up with them long term, how much more knowledge would we have today about what factors, be they genetic, environmental or injury-related, affected outcomes among those individuals?

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U.S. Access Board Proposes ICT Update

David Baquis, U.S. Access Board

By Guest Blogger David Baquis, U.S. Access Board

In February, the U.S. Access Board, an independent federal agency, released a proposed rule to update accessibility requirements for information and communication technologies (ICT). Long in the making, this proposal is the culmination of a decade of effort that began with recommendations from an advisory committee organized by the Board, the Telecommunications and Electronic and Information Technology Advisory Committee which comprised a broad cross-section of stakeholders representing industry, disability groups, government agencies, and other countries.

The proposal, which is officially known as a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), refreshes standards for electronic and information technology in the federal sector covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It also updates guidelines for telecommunications equipment issued under Section 255 of the Communications Act of 1934. The Board is updating both documents jointly to ensure consistency in accessibility across the spectrum of ICT covered, including computers, telecommunications equipment, multifunction office machines, software, websites, information kiosks and transaction machines, and electronic documents. Examples of ICT accessibility include captioning of videos, providing controls for captioning and audio description, and compatibility of websites, documents and software with assistive technology.

The proposed rule contains performance-based criteria as well as technical requirements for hardware, software, and support documentation and services. Access is addressed for all types of disabilities, including those pertaining to vision, hearing, speech and manual dexterity.

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Technologies in the Works That Will Improve Quality of Life

The Home Exploring Robot Butler, known as HERB

By Guest Blogger Kathy Pretz, editor in chief of The Institute, IEEE’s member newspaper

Engineers around the world are hard at work developing technologies that will make life easier for those with disabilities. Members of IEEE – the world’s largest professional association dedicated to advancing technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity – are among them. The ones featured here are working on projects to help people with ALS, those who are wheelchair-bound and others who need a helping hand with household chores.

A Communication Device for ALS

Lama Nachman, director of Intel’s Anticipatory Computing Lab in Santa Clara, Calif., is leading the team that is upgrading Stephen Hawking’s communication system and making it open source. This will eventually help others living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – better known as ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that causes muscle twitching, weakness and speech impairment – to better communicate. Hawking, the famous British theoretical physicist and cosmologist, relies on an Intel computer system to type and voice his thoughts as well as navigate computer applications and Internet browsing. His upgraded system reduced the number of words he needed to spell out completely by adding word-prediction technology that is used in smartphones. It also sped up common tasks such as opening a document or browsing the Web.

While the current platform is tailored to Hawking, Nachman says it should be easy to adapt for others by making the word-prediction software more conversational and expanding the motion-sensing capabilities to detect movements beyond a twitch of the cheek, which is how Hawking controls the system. Her team is now working on a facial-gesture recognition tool so that users can, for example, choose an application or open a new document using various facial expressions.

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Empowering Individuals with Disabilities and Employers through the Workforce Recruitment Program

Former WRP participant Robert Zambrana (left) poses with Robert D. Cabana, former NASA astronaut and director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

By Guest Blogger Randy Cooper, Department of Defense Disability Program Director, Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity

Answering the call to serve

“Talent has no barriers” is Robert Zambrana’s favorite mantra. Mr. Zambrana’s determination and drive to succeed from an early age perhaps foretold a young man’s journey to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) where he’d find ample opportunity to show the workforce his many talents and launch a career at the leading agency for aeronautics and aerospace.

At age two, Mr. Zambrana was diagnosed with hearing loss. Zambrana faced discrimination and barriers in school and elsewhere for his disability which he channeled into confidence, a competitive spirit and compassion for others in the face of many challenges. He tells the story of a formative moment in high school when a school counselor suggested that, as a hearing impaired student, Zambrana would never pass the standardized exams he needed to graduate. Zambrana said simply, “Thank you for motivating me to pass this test.” And he did. In short, obstacles to Zambrana are the fuel that drives him to succeed.

After learning American Sign Language and graduating from Gallaudet University, Mr. Zambrana answered the call to public service. During a job fair, he connected with a representative from the Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP), which links highly motivated college students and graduates with disabilities to public and private sector employers nationwide. The WRP is geared toward individuals with disabilities who are eager to prove themselves in the workplace. For someone like Zambrana, who was “ready to show the world what I could do,” the program was a perfect fit. It was through his WRP placement at the Department of Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI) where he became a leader among his colleagues and a mentor to others with disabilities. At DEOMI, he remains well-respected for his strong performance, work ethic and love for learning.

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