On the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Disability Act, there is still much work to be done to make the world equally accessible to all, according to advocates of disabilities.
On Tuesday, the Daniel Boone Regional Library, Columbia-Boone County’s League of Women Voters, and the Columbia Disabilities Commission jointly hosted a forum on the ADA. Adopted in 1990 after decades of work by disability advocates and activists, the ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability.
“What really impressed me was the ‘Crawl to the Capitol,’ where people with disabilities climbed the steps of the country’s capital to highlight the need for accessibility features,” said John Bowders of the Columbia Disabilities Commission.
Over the years it has been updated and expanded with additional laws such as the Help America Vote Act of 2002 and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008. The latter have clarified the definition of disability, stating that a person is disabled when they have or have a physical or mental impairment that significantly limits one or more of the main activities of life, even if that impairment is episodic, in remission, or does not currently have a significant impact on an important life activity.
“In one case, it was ruled that a disabled person using a prosthesis was not eligible for ADA protection because of the attenuating measure,” said Commissioner Rene Powell of the need for the 2008 Act. “Having epilepsy involved in Drugging some cases, but not always being successful, meant that I could be interpreted as being successful drugged by a court whether or not I was. At that time the definition of disability was updated. “
Even so, 30 years later, people with disabilities are still having difficulty accessing many services, locations, and other features of daily life – even those that the requirements of the ADA were supposed to make accessible to them. Many corporations and other businesses simply haven’t worked to meet ADA standards, the commission said.
Lydia Olmsted, a graduate of Rocktree High School in Columbia, is blind and deaf in one ear, among other things. She relies on screen reading software to navigate the Internet – an important part of 21st century life.
“The main challenge is that some websites are inaccessible to screen readers. The speaking software cannot read certain parts of the website because of the web design,” she said. “It could say ‘button’ or ‘link’ instead of saying what that button or link is.”
Powell pointed out that the ADA is older than the modern internet and has been updated to require the website to include functionality to make it accessible.
“The ADA came first, so the Internet should have been inclusive,” said Powell. “But it didn’t go that way.”
Olmsted uses a stick to navigate obstacles and braille to read script that is not on a computer screen.
“One thing that is still ongoing in the Columbia school system is installing the correct Braille signage on the classroom doors and the toilet, things like that,” she said.
And even after the Help America Vote Act was passed in 2002, not all polling stations have many useful accommodations available. In Colombia, Olmsted uses voting machines that read her the ballot and allow her to vote without assistance.
“There aren’t always many talking machines available at polling stations,” she said. “As a result, when the machines are not available, blind people have to rely on someone to fill out the ballot for them, which of course is a privacy issue.”
Bowders became disabled later in life when he was injured and paralyzed from the chest down at the age of 57. That was six years ago.
“For the past 57 years I have been productive and very mobile and very physically active. It was therefore a great shock to learn to live my life in a chair,” he said. “Before my injury, I thought Columbia was one of the flattest places in the world. After my injury and moving around in my manual chair, I was very happy that it was flat – but not that flat. I have a very different one quickly and continuously Gained perspective. “
As a professor of civil engineering at the University of Missouri, he’s keen to build a more accessible world.
“When we design facilities for people with disabilities, ultimately, many other people benefit from whether they are simple things like ramps instead of stairs – there are many people who can go up a ramp much better than they do stairs,” he said .
Disability advocates refer to this as “disability gain” or “curb-cut effect”. The classic example is curbs on sidewalks. They not only make it easier for people with visual and mobility impairments to navigate curbs, but also benefit people who push prams.
“My goal is to get Columbia to design things to include everyone,” Bowders said.
There are challenges, however – “universal design” and other accommodations are never truly universal as different people with different disabilities have different needs. For example, a blind person may need to bring their sighted guide dog on a flight to safely navigate the airport, while a person on the same flight with a severe allergy to dogs may be at risk due to the presence of that dog.
Bowders and the rest of the Commission are hoping and working towards a world that is not only accessible but also welcoming to people with disabilities.
For example, according to Bowders, many restaurants in Colombia are technically accessible – but only if you drive through an alley to a back entrance or even navigate through the restaurant’s kitchen instead of going through the front door with the other guests.
“One sentence I’ve picked up lately is that while it’s technically accessible, it’s not necessarily inviting,” Powell said. “There’s a real difference between the two. It feels like you’re not necessarily welcome in a place when there are stairs.”
In order to learn more about the history of the disability rights movement, the commission proposed to watch the 2020 documentary “Crip Camp”. It is currently available on Netflix and is available for free with ads on the Netflix YouTube channel.