The ADA to Me
Author: Tony Trott
What does the ADA mean to me? That’s a question I have been thinking about a lot lately. I was just 32 when it became law in 1990, and although I knew I had a physical disability, I had only been using a wheelchair part-time for about 5 years. So, the true importance of accessibility was not really something I was, personally, worried about for myself. Of course, things are quite different now and I am extremely aware of accessibility issues (and, of course, issues of inaccessibility). I have been a full-time wheelchair user for about 17 years and unless there is a miracle, I will be for the rest of my life. To me the ADA means access of all kinds; physical, emotional, psychological, et al.
When I think about the ADA, I focus on the civil rights it creates for me and all people with disabilities. I also realize that there are six critical words that should be added to the previous sentence: who know how to apply it.
Therein lies a big problem with the ADA, as is the case with many other civil rights laws. In order to benefit from it, you need to understand it. You need to know your rights. The ADA is not a law of entitlement, it’s one of empowerment. That is why Happy on Wheels tries to educate people (especially the younger generation) about how the ADA can benefit them. This applies to both people with disabilities and those without disabilities.
For example, people with disabilities make up a rather large portion of the population (the exact percentage differs slightly depending on where you get your information, but according to census.gov in 2018 the percentage of non-institutionalized adults was 12.6%) It makes sense for businesses to want to include people with disabilities in their list of patrons!
And that is where I find the rub. Why do businesses build counters that are inaccessible? Why do hotels say they have roll in showers when they don’t? Why do stores say that they are accessible and upon arrival there is one step? Understanding what is required from a range of individuals is necessary to fully realize the benefits of the ADA. If I had my way, every architect, doctor, developer, and store owner, among others, would receive a crash course on what is required under the ADA. It is only then that we will reach systemic accessibility because it will be applied correctly from the start.
Is everything perfect because of the ADA? Of course not. We must keep a vigilant eye out for violations and scams involving accessibility, but the ADA was a necessary start to inclusion.