The ADA and Claiming Disability

Andrew J. Imparato, Executive Director, Association of University Centers on Disabilities

By Guest Blogger Andrew J. Imparato, Executive Director, Association of University Centers on Disabilities

This month, as we reflect on 25 years of implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it is easy to focus on the letter of the law and miss the larger message of this historic legislation. For me, the greatest value of the ADA has been its role in framing disability as a natural part of the human experience and branding discrimination against children and adults with disabilities as something that is unlawful, unnatural and unnecessary.

In July of 1990, I was a brand-new lawyer trying to cope with the early stages of bipolar disorder, a condition that has stayed with me to this day. Earlier that year, as a newlywed and a visiting student at Harvard Law School, I had experienced my first serious episode of depression. Seemingly overnight, I went from being a confident, outspoken law student to an insecure, scared, unmotivated shell of my former self. With help from my wife, Betsy, and others, I made it through law school and launched a career in public interest law.

I soon found my calling as a disability advocate and I learned to think of my disability as a positive differentiator; it gave me added credibility and gravitas in my chosen profession. I was proud to be a person with a psychiatric disability who was “out” as a professional and I felt welcomed by my colleagues with a variety of disabilities in Massachusetts and beyond.

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Celebrating 25 Years of the Americans with Disabilities Act

An American flag with a white circle overlay. 25 Years of the ADA. Disability.gov

By the Disability.gov Team

In 27 days, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will celebrate its 25th anniversary. The hard work of advocates, legislators and other founding men and women who had a hand in this historical piece of legislation will be recognized, in addition to the law itself. Their tireless efforts led to inclusion and accessibility for people with disabilities after years of discrimination.

The impact of the ADA can be seen in the lives it has changed throughout the past 25 years. This landmark legislation helps protect the rights of people with disabilities in five key areas: employment, state and local government facilities and services, public accommodations, telecommunications and transportation. The ADA not only protects people with disabilities from discrimination, but also allows them to fully participate in the workforce and their communities.

To celebrate this important anniversary, federal, state and local agencies and organizations throughout the country are hosting events and activities highlighting the ADA. The U.S. Department of Labor, for instance, is focusing on how the ADA has impacted employment with its Advancing Equal Access to Opportunity webpage. Featuring a timeline of disability and employment milestones, it takes a look back at the evolution of the ADA. The webpage also includes real-life stories from people with disabilities throughout the country about the impact the ADA has had on their lives and in their workplaces. Visit the webpage to share your own story!

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The Voice of Encouragement

Katie Maskey Mrs Ohio United States 2015 Invisible Disabilities Ambassador

By Guest Blogger Wayne Connell, Founder and President, Invisible Disabilities Association (IDA)

“I can’t believe how strong you are!” “I can’t believe how hard you keep fighting!” “You are so courageous!” “You amaze me!”

Believe it or not, it is all too common for a person living with a continuing illness or pain to be treated as if they are not positive enough, do not try hard enough, do not want to get better and do not have anything to complain about.

Then again, most people cannot imagine how difficult it is to be inside a body that will not cooperate with their desires. If we would take a moment to realize how much our loved one has been through, what they go through daily, how many tests they have had, how many doctors they have seen, how many medications they have tried, how much research they have done and how much money they have spent to battle the symptoms, we would recognize our loved one’s amazing courage.

In any case, don’t most people become crabby and whiny when they get sick, even though they know they will be better in a few days? Imagine having symptoms much or all of the time. According to Pauline Boss in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, “…an ambiguous loss of long duration becomes physically and psychologically exhausting for even the strongest of individuals, couples and families.” Think of how amazing this person is for having such persistence to find a way to remove or at least alleviate their symptoms and to find ways to cope. Consequently, isn’t it time to voice our admiration for their incredible strength and determination? I think so!

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Sowing New Seeds in the Garden of Disability Rights Activism

Emily Ladau, a writer, disability rights activist, and the owner of Social Justice Media Services

By Guest Blogger Emily Ladau, Owner, Social Justice Media Services

When speaking to established activists, elected officials or anyone from generations before me whose work is deeply entrenched in the progress of the disability rights movement, I often find myself wondering if my thoughts and ideas will be considered viable contributions. It seems that to some, the ripe young age of (nearly) 24 means I’m much too young to be experienced in sparking change or well-informed enough to express anything of value. Sadly, I’ve noticed such ageism from time to time among disability activists, even as we work towards being a community dedicated to fighting prejudice and discrimination. At the same time, I’ve found some incredible mentors within the disability community – ones who have inspired me not only to learn from them, but also to consider how I can continually do my best to contribute.

As the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act approaches, I’ve been reflecting on how we can deepen connections across generations of disability rights activists and how we can remember that we share common goals. Each time I think about it, my mind is drawn to the metaphor of a garden. If you’ve read much of my writing, my words usually have more of an edge than comparing activism to a garden, so this may sound a bit sappy, but stick with me.

Assume you have a garden, one that you’ve worked on growing with love and care for decades. The garden thrives from your efforts, but as time passes, working single-handedly to keep the garden going takes its toll. Amidst the lush green you find some plants overgrown, some patches struggling to blossom. Certainly, a person to help tend the garden couldn’t hurt. But it’s your garden and to give someone else a chance to care for it feels as though you’re letting go of your hard work. That person will tend to the plants with strong roots, but also suggests sowing new seeds. How could you possibly agree to this when you’ve always gone about your gardening in a certain way?

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Mentor Guides Veteran with Disability to Small Business Success

Bridget Weston Pollack, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, SCORE Association

By Guest Blogger Bridget Weston Pollack, Vice President of Marketing and Communications, SCORE Association.

Fulfilling the dream of owning a business can be a difficult journey, but some entrepreneurs face more challenges than others. With perseverance and a supportive SCORE mentor, military veteran Al Kroell and his wife Christy found their path to success.

While serving in the Navy, Al Kroell suffered an accident leaving him with a severe disability. He lost the use of his hands and the military deemed him unemployable – his 20 year career was suddenly over. A few years later, his wife Christy also became disabled after a car accident. The couple struggled with finances and needed a plan desperately.

Through the hardships, Al found comfort in his hobby of scroll saw woodworking. He especially enjoyed making plaques for military friends. Then it hit him – why not turn his hobby into a business?

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