Even though I'd probably already benefited from this document before, I hadn't become aware of its existence until 1998. I was taking a Small Group communications course at my undergraduate university, and the instructor divided us into segments to research different aspects of discrimination, particularly within small businesses. I was to gain an understanding of the types of discrimination encountered by persons with a disability, and to investigate the protections put in place for their recourse.
Interestingly enough, this project marked the first time I was able to largely conduct independent research. Before this, I would be assigned a research partner by the university's office of Disability Services at the beginning of each semester. This individual would read my articles on tape for me, so that I could more quickly access the information than the office could provide. At this point, though, they finally acquired a Kurzweil scanner, which was then hooked to a computer running Kurzweil 1000 software, an Object Character Recognition (OCR) package that allows the scanner to read typed text. I'd bet that with the proliferation of this technology, most of you have heard of it by now. And if you don't know who this Ray Kurzweil character is, well he's strange enough to warrant reading about, believe me.
So all I had to do was inform the reference librarian of my research topic, which of course any other student could do, and she would help me find relevant literature. Then I'd scan it all, load it onto a floppy diskette, (remember those?) pop it into a portable disk drive, and finally transfer it to my small Braille device called a Braille Lite.
By comparison to the way I now gather data, even that method seems quite cumbersome. Fortunately, most databases are now allowing for the downloading of electronic articles. This means I don't even have to use a librarian, although I do still sometimes because they can help me locate harder to find things. And, if it's an electronic article, it's available for viewing immediately either on my PC or via the Pac Mate.
While the role of the ADA in improving our educational opportunity cannot be overstated, it has also been important in enhancing transportation. I love that most of the buses in this system speak their destination and announce major stops. I certainly hope they are continuing to work to upgrade the entire system to this standard. We need the fixed-route bus system to be as usable by as large a portion of the population as possible. Because while paratransit systems, those designed specifically for use by persons with a disability, are good, they often lack real flexibility. Imagine having to plan any destinations up to two days in advance, and being penalized if you decide to late "well now I don't wanna go". That is generally how they work. Also if the regular buses are fully accessible, then it eases service for those who truly do require paratransit to get around.
Of course, a large responsibility for the improvements that we wish to see hangs on our shoulders. We must get out and advocate, learning to interact with those who plan services, and with the politicians who divvy up the funding that allows for their use. Recently, the North Carolina legislature was close to voting on whether to maintain certain healthcare services for persons with developmental disabilities. We were to send out what was mostly a form letter to representatives in the NC House, but there was also a section in which we could put personal experiences. I admitted that I don't know a whole lot about how these policies are decided and about where cuts could be made instead in order to preserve the same level of care for these people. However, I added, I know what it is like to lose needed services, and how much trouble that can create for those so effected. I am hoping to be a voice for those whose disabilities preclude their ability to self-advocate. Amazingly to me, one of the representatives actually responded, saying she intended to fight hard to ensure that services continued at the same level. A small victory, but a victory nonetheless.
Currently, my greatest tool for advocacy is writing right here in this blog. And, as I've mentioned many times before, I serve on the board for the Norrie Disease Association, a burgeoning advocacy group for persons who have this condition as well as their families, friends, and those who can help us with our understanding through research of the components of this disorder. And if I can get this laptop up to speed, I will also volunteer for Bookshare as a proofer, reading through scanned volumes to correct any errors and bringing the book up to excellent quality.
So those are my many and varied thoughts on what this piece of history, the Americans with Disabilities Act, means. I think we should all pause and reflect on ways big and small that we can work together to make our schools, our neighborhoods, our world, a more inviting, accessible place for all. Thanks, and let's keep fighting!