Colorado Springs observes 31 years of ADA compliance. however enhancements are an ongoing course of | Premium
Before President George HW Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, 1990, many people were unable to navigate their homes and communities. There were simply not enough ramps for wheelchairs or sign language interpreters or flexible workspaces to meet physical and mental challenges.
“The problem is not the disability, but the environment and attitudes,” said Patricia Yeager, CEO of the Independence Center, which hosted a virtual celebration Thursday in honor of ADA’s 31st birthday. “This systemic structure prevented us from participating.”
The law, which prevents discrimination in employment, transportation, public housing, communications and access to government programs, culminated in decades of work by disabled communities advocating full participation in society, spokesmen said.
“Yes, we’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go,” said Stephanie Symonette, author and traumatic brain injury patient from Colorado Springs. “We still have to stand up for ourselves to get the essentials.”
The civil rights movement for equal treatment and access for people with disabilities began in the 19th century and grew in strength in the 1940s when psychiatric patients formed groups to support the transition from hospitals to communities.
Breaks in building codes, traffic, employment and health care were hard-fought but successful, she said.
Several new local projects are improving accessibility, Mayor John Suthers said during the event, including the renovated Memorial Park Beach House, which opened this week, as well as the Helen Hunt Falls and Garden of the Gods Park.
The city has also installed 1,400 curb ramps and half a million square feet of accessible sidewalks, Suthers said; has improved online information such as bus timetables; and has a phone application to report disabled parking violations.
The environment towards people with disabilities has changed and continues to change, said local speakers who are among the leaders.
Amelia Dall, a deaf archaeologist who moved to Colorado four years ago and started a project called Amelia the Archaeologist, said she faced no barriers as a child because her parents are deaf and have taught her to go for the stars to grab. But during the fast-paced college days, Dall said she needed to find ways to have a voice in class and social interactions.
For example, she taught colleagues and professors simple signs during fieldwork that benefited everyone and reduced the need for walkie-talkies.
Dall learned that others who clarified her needs as a deaf student were more likely to understand and willingly include her.
“I feel like I’ve made a difference,” she said through an interpreter.
One of Dall’s missions now is to uncover historical information about the deaf in ancient cultures.
“I feel obliged to work hard and find, document, and record the history of the Deaf over time,” she said.
For Jeremy Chatelain, who was paraplegic after severing his spinal cord in a swimming incident, independence means being able to reach a light switch and easily wheel it into his garage or house.
It means attending a symphony concert without the hindsight, pinning a corner of the venue, or having to watch your family from the parking lot while they frolic on the beach.
The main thing is to get your wheelchair dirty, he said during the event on Thursday.
Chatelain, board member of Independence Center and local educator, recently acquired a new TerrainHopper mobility chair that allows him to jump curbs, cross rocks and play in the sand – activities he would not do in a traditional wheelchair could.
A doctor once told him he was glad to see Chatelain getting his wheelchair dirty.
“So that we can experience life,” he said.
Symonette, whose brain was injured after falling on the ice as a child, was hit by a car in college and beaten in a car accident as an adult. She said that because her injury is not visible, she is constantly being judged for her memory and processing problems.
“Do not consider me disabled because I am not a traumatic brain injury – I am a person, a woman, an African American,” she said. “One of my life tasks is to continue to stand up for myself so that I can continue to stand up for others.”
It encourages people to look for similarities “even in the smallest sense” and to embrace them, not differences. For example, say hello to someone in a wheelchair to confirm their presence.
“It took me a while to know that I have the right to stand up for myself,” said Symonette, “and if I stand up for needs that are not met, I can become more independent.”