The American Affiliation Of Folks With Disabilities Seems to be Again On 30 Years Of The ADA And What Covid-19 Has Performed To Disabled Folks
AAPD President & CEO, Maria Town
Last Sunday, July 26th, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed for the 30th time. The ADA, as it is colloquially known, was enacted in 1990 by President George HW Bush and is essentially the Civil Rights Act for people with disabilities. The landmark bill was developed and written by former Congressman Tony Coelho, a California Democrat. Coelho is disabled himself – in a May interview with me, he shared the impetus for the drafting of the law, which can be traced back to discrimination and ridicule about his diagnosis of epilepsy. His parents kept his diagnosis a secret from him until the end of his life, and he was expelled from seminary because canon law (and his parents) saw his condition as a sign that he was possessed by the devil.
“After considerable struggles, I finally got my life back under control and surrounded myself with friends who advised me to go into politics and use my disability for good,” he said.
In addition to founding the ADA, Coelho was a co-founder (and board member) of the American Association of People with Disabilities. The non-profit organization founded in 1995 has set itself the task of “acting as an organizer, link and catalyst for change in order to strengthen the political and economic power of people with disabilities”. The aim is to give the more than 60 million disabled American adults a stronger socio-cultural voice in relation to economic power and political participation. The AAPD has even awarded a Coelho honor scholarship, which is given to people who pursue journalism and related professions.
“Right now we’re working to bring about a paradigm shift in America by encouraging individuals and communities to celebrate disabilities rather than hiding them,” said Maria Town, CEO and President of the AAPD, in a recent interview. Town took the top spot in the organization in 2019.
Looking back over three decades of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Town put its historical significance in context. She noted that prior to the adoption of the ADA in the United States, comprehensive protection for people with disabilities did not exist. “ADA has finally banned disability discrimination in employment, state and local government, public housing, commercial establishments, transportation and telecommunications,” she said. “With the signing of the ADA, the landscape of our nation began to change. We started seeing things that we take for granted today: curb cuts, elevators, accessible entrances, and bathrooms, to name a few. Common areas such as cinemas and parks became accessible. “
As transformative as the ADA has been, much remains to be done.
As the country saw with the May assassination of George Floyd in Minneapolis and subsequent protests against Black Lives Matter, discrimination and racism persist regardless of the existence of laws like the Civil Rights Act. Disability discrimination and ableism is no different, which is why advocacy groups like the AAPD and activists like haben Girma work so tirelessly for our cause. The amazing advances made in the past thirty years are to be celebrated, but the work is evergreen. Town cited the lack of representation of disabilities in Hollywood and in the media as areas that needed to be dramatically revised in terms of diversity and inclusion.
“Today we are fortunate enough to celebrate the many different cultures and identities, but many of the prevailing narratives about disability still focus on disability as something that needs to be overcome, healed, or even something that inspires non-disabled people,” said Town. “Society needs a paradigm shift – instead of trying to erase our disabilities, we have to accept and celebrate disability as an identity.”
The coronavirus pandemic is an issue that exposes the bias of society – and the mainstream media – towards disabled people. Representation of interests and reporting on the plight of disabled people during the crisis was comparatively sparse compared to other groups. Town told me that the virus not only exposed serious kinks in the American health machine, but also how much people with disabilities rely on public infrastructure. Reduced services on local public transport, for example, limit the mobility and accessibility of a blind person or wheelchair user. Likewise, grocery shopping can be dangerous for many with certain disabilities, and on-demand delivery services like Uber Eats can be costly.
“Covid-19, like many crises, has shown how advances in the rights of people with disabilities are linked to advances for all other marginalized communities,” Town said. “For some members of the disabled community, people with visual, hearing, and cognitive disabilities can find it more difficult to get information because popular news sources may not be fully accessible, especially when information changes so quickly.”
She added: “[The AAPD] Having discussions about the unique opportunity for society to learn from the community with disabilities during this crisis and a shared responsibility to ensure that recovery from this virus is fair and accessible to all.
You can learn more about the AAPD and its mission on their website.