Sweetness in Life: Meet Tasha, “No Boundaries” 2015 Participant

Tasha, Wildflour Caterers

By Rebecca Skipper, Team Member, Disability.gov

Some say life is a lot like baking. It’s all about finding the right combination of ingredients, rising to the occasion and savoring the sweetness. Tasha seems to have the recipe down pat.

The Disability.gov team met up with Tasha at Wildflour Caterers in Chantilly, Virginia, where she works doing a variety of tasks, including prep work in the kitchen and helping maintain the onsite café. But her favorite activity is baking, and in particular, rolling out and shaping the dog biscuits the company supplies to Whole Foods and Wegmans stores across the Washington, D.C., area. Wildflour’s mission includes a commitment to providing employment and training opportunities to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, like Tasha, who has Down syndrome.

According to Tasha’s mother, food has been the common thread through her vocational experiences so far. Before joining the Wildflour team in September 2014 and as part of her post-high school training program in the Arlington Public School system, Tasha worked in food service at several other locations, including Fort Myer Officers’ Club and Bernie’s Café at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia. During high school, she also worked a couple of hours a week in a bank, but found that she didn’t enjoy it as much as food service. Tasha’s job training took place with the help of the Arlington Career Center, an extension of Arlington Public Schools that helps county residents prepare for employment through career, technical and academic training.

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Protection and Advocacy: A Foundation for Disability Rights

Curt Decker, Executive Director, National Disability Rights Network

By Guest Blogger Curt Decker, Executive Director, National Disability Rights Network

“A snake pit.”

That’s how Senator Robert Kennedy described Willowbrook, a state institution for people with developmental disabilities on Staten Island, in 1965. Seven years later, Geraldo Rivera, then a young investigative reporter with ABC News in New York City, smuggled cameras into Willowbrook. For the first time, Americans were able to see the filthy, squalid conditions in which children and adults with developmental disabilities were forced to live, receiving very little services and supports.

These broadcasts galvanized the state’s senior senator, Jacob Javits, to action and the Protection and Advocacy (P&A) network was born.

The initial focus of the network was to safeguard the well-being of individuals living in institutions like Willowbrook nationwide. Today, P&As continue to monitor, investigate and attempt to remedy abuse and neglect in all facilities that care for people with disabilities. But over the years, Congress has broadened the work of the P&As. P&A agencies now have the authority to provide legal representation and other advocacy services to all people with disabilities wherever they reside on a range of issues.

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Senator Tom Harkin (Ret.)

By Guest Blogger Senator Tom Harkin (Ret.)

It is hard to believe it has been 25 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This nation has come a long way since the passing of this historic civil rights act. Before the ADA, I heard stories of individuals who had to crawl on their hands and knees to go up a flight of stairs at a school or a court house, who couldn’t ride a bus because there wasn’t a lift and individuals couldn’t attend a baseball game with their own family due to inaccessibility at the ball park. Millions of Americans were denied access to their own communities – and because of that they were denied access to the American dream.

I saw this denial firsthand in the life of my older brother Frank, who was deaf. He was the inspiration for my sponsoring the ADA, and for my lifelong work on disability rights. We’ve come so far as a county since passage of the ADA. However, the work is far from over. We must continue the fight for policies that will make the goals of the ADA a reality: equal opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities and their families.

While books, buildings, and baseball stadiums may be far more accessible to people with disabilities than they were before the passage of the ADA, one area stands as a disappointment to me: employment. We have barely seen any increase in employment of people with disabilities since 1990 despite what every survey and study says – that people with disabilities want the benefits, dignity and power of work.

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Our ADA Stories

Alice Wong, Founder and Project Coordinator, Disability Visibility Project

By Guest Blogger Alice Wong, Founder and Project Coordinator, Disability Visibility Project

There has been a deluge of articles, stories, and blog posts on the upcoming 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Any anniversary of a major historic moment provides people with an opportunity to reflect, celebrate, and look ahead. Here is my personal ADA story.

I was a junior in high school when President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA on July 26, 1990. Growing up in suburban Indianapolis as the only wheelchair-using student in almost all of my classes throughout high school, I was an incredibly self-conscious, over-compensating, angry young disabled woman who had few connections with the disability community. Honestly, I do not remember any excitement or interest in the signing of the ADA during that time period. It makes me laugh remembering my younger self: angsty and insecure, filled with internalized ableism and searching for my tribe.

Slowly, I began to develop my disability identity and it fortunately coincided with the passage and implementation of the ADA. Information about civil rights, accessibility, and public accommodations couldn’t come at a more perfect time as I planned my education and career. I came to realize that I was protected under the ADA and entitled to equal access like everyone else.

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Happy Anniversary to All of Us…

Mathew McCollough, Executive Director, District of Columbia Developmental Disabilities Council

By Guest Blogger Mathew McCollough, Executive Director, District of Columbia Developmental Disabilities Council

I begin this narrative by honoring the following significant individuals and recognizing that my mother, father and grandfather instilled in me to lead a life with a great sense of humility, respect, honor and integrity. I am a Filipino American with cerebral palsy. My father served in the United States Air Force and my mother is an educator. Her father – my grandfather – was part of the “Greatest Generation” who served in the Marine Corps during World War II. My grandfather acquired his disability during the war and the gentleman served as the most influential mentor during my childhood.

Happy Anniversary to all of us! July 26, 2015 represents 25 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In addition to the 25th anniversary of the ADA, many of us identify the 4th of July as “Independence Day” for the United States. However, this month always holds a significant meaning to me. I celebrate an anniversary of my own and this date represents an entirely different level of “independence” for me.

Twenty-six years ago on July 4, 1989, I took my first steps, walking independently without the support of my arm braces, walker or wheelchair. I was 13 years old at the time. I was uncertain of my capabilities, yet my parents always had a way of challenging me. They did not know if I had the ability to walk independently; however, they were going to push me to try.

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