Although it’s early in the process, I’m really enjoying my time in the Flagship program of Leadership Winston Salem. Before I applied, I was told I was the first person with a severe disability to participate. That’s why I’m impressed by the active efforts to include me.  This effort led me to reflect on the Americans with Disabilities Act and its importance.

Recently, we took a bus tour to historical locations in my hometown of Winston Salem. The tour highlighted two places which are models of inclusion of people with disabilities. One was The Centers for Exceptional Children, and the other one the Lowrance Middle School.

The Centers for Exceptional Children has been in operation since the 1950’s, and has always been integrated. This is significant because there was no law requiring people with disabilities to receive an education until the mid 1970’s. The law was called the Education for Handicapped Children of 1975. It’s now called the Individuals with Disabilities Educational Act.

When my assistant mentioned that I am a graduate of the Centers for Exceptional Children, everyone on the bus cheered. As I reflect on this history, it’s hard for me not to reflect on the importance of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the importance of communities being accessible to all.

 

Why is the Americans with Disabilities Act Important?

Owner of Community Enterprises LLC Karen Hamilton defines the American with Disabilities Act as

“A civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public,” Hamilton said. “The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.”

Cities and towns should not just comply with the ADA because it’s the law. It also makes good business sense in North Carolina. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 23.9% of North Carolinians have some type of disability. All of those people with disabilities have to spend their money somewhere.

The Open Door Organization is a non-profit founded in 2002 to ensure that people with disabilities have the same consumer opportunities as everyone else. A study released in 2015 quantifies how much adults with disabilities spend on their own travel, $17.3 billion, up from $13.6 billion in 2002. Since these individuals typically travel with one or more other adults, the economic impact is actually double, or $34.6 billion.”

In addition to reaping the economic rewards of accessibility, communities also benefit from harnessing the potential of people with disabilities. Philip Woodard, a systems change manager at the North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities offers several prominent examples of people with disabilities enriching their community.

“Some of our world’s greatest thinkers and innovators have been people with disabilities such as Stephen Hawking,” Woodard said. “Steve Jobs is thought to have had dyslexia. Louis Braille invented a new language of sorts, and Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder have been fabulous musicians who benefited from Braille’s invention! Helen Keller was a leader in the women’s rights movement as well as being Deaf and blind herself. Marli Matlin showed us in “Children of a Lesser God” that you don’t have to use your physical voice to win an Oscar.”

 

Creating Accessible Communities

Some communities in North Carolina are more accessible than others. According to Woodward, those that want to become more accessible have a variety of resources available to them:

The U.S. Access Board has published a list of guidelines and standards: https://www.access-board.gov/guidelines-and-standards. Also, NCCDD’s new ADA Coordination, Technical Assistance, and Fiscal Intermediary Supports initiative enables the NC ADA Network’s grassroots groups to conduct small projects to help increase voluntary compliance with the ADA and awareness of the ADA in local communities.

According to Karen Hamilton, the best resource is the Southeast ADA Center, which provides technical assistance regarding federal laws to both communities and individuals with disabilities. Hamilton provide the contact information:

Southeast ADA Center
1419 Mayson Street NE
Atlanta, Georgia 30324
Phone: 1-800-949-4232

Email: [email protected]

Web site: http://www.adasoutheast.org

Unfortunately, 28 years after the ADA, accessibility in North Carolina varies from place to place. The best enforcers of our rights are self-advocates. The sources interviewed for this blog recommend that you know your rights and you kindly but firmly assert your right to access in your community.