WHO CARES ABOUT THE ADA?
By Cindy Wentz
Who cares about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? I do, and you should as well. OK, OK–perhaps it’s not as pressing as flipping the House or whether Kavanaugh gets confirmed… or is it? I maintain that it touches many more aspects of our daily lives than many events of the day. Moreover, it is influenced by all three branches of our government.
Did you know that 20% of Americans have some type of disability? I have seen a figure as high as 35% for seniors. Under the ADA, the term ‘disability’ refers to a physical or mental impairment that significantly limits one or more major life activities regardless of whether said impairment is current, is part of the individual’s history or record, or is a perception by others. Hence the disability may (use of a walker, blindness) ) or may not (mental illness, hearing loss) be visible to the casual observer. Do YOU have a disability? What about your family members? What about your fellow BOLLI learners? It has been said that disability is the only minority group to which one can gain membership at any time. So, if you don’t have a disability now. . . just wait. . . or maybe not.
The ADA is a fairly straightforward civil rights act for people who just happen to have disabilities. It was signed into law in 1990 by then President George H. W. Bush. I will defer to Josh Mendelsohn, our October 9” Lunch & Learn” speaker, to provide more specifics. Josh, an attorney, has worked for the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and currently heads up the Community Living Division at the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission. Josh happens to be Deaf.
Instead, I will attempt to convey what the ADA means in my life. As some of you know, I have very poor vision. I can’t read print, can’t see traffic lights, don’t understand those scenes in movies that lack dialog, and encounter challenges in a hundred other commonplace activities. Under the advent of the ADA, the subsequent Telecommunications Act of 1996, and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act (amendments 1998), I can now expect to be able to use the ATM at my local bank branch by plugging in a headphone and having the information on the screen read to me. I can hope that those traffic lights have audible signals indicating when the light has turned green. Increasingly, I can access audio description for current films and, sometimes, even for theatre productions. BOLLI will make any class handouts available to me in an electronic format so that I can read them using VoiceOver. Most course readings can be downloaded to be read in large print or listened to in human or synthesized speech. Most importantly, the ADA has contributed significantly to changing my perceptions. No longer do I regard these fairly simple accommodations with gratitude as I rather apologetically request them. No! I have a right to them. It’s the law, and I utilize them with dignity and pride.
What about you? Do you or a fellow BOLLI student encounter any difficulty in hearing he SGL, in maneuvering your walker or wheelchair around the BOLLI space, in seeing/hearing those audiovisual presentations? Do you have any other need caused by a disability? If so, speak up! Your tuition payment is as good as the next person’s and you need not shortchange yourself. I assure you that Avi, Megan, and Lily are ready to assist as am I (BOLLI’s Inclusion and Disability Liaison). And do come to “Lunch & Learn” on October 9 for a more in-depth look at the ADA.
Cindy’s passion for and her commitment to disability rights and independent living led to a 40 year career in rehabilitation. Though happily retired, she has found gigs that allow her to continue to contribute to her professional interests. In addition to BOLLI, Cindy enjoys traveling, hiking in the fall, attending local theatre productions, and countless other pursuits–some of which she hasn’t even yet discovered.