Just as our Executive Director Jeremy Burton left for his much-deserved vacation, we had a full taste of summer in the form of July 4th celebrations, back yard barbeques, fireworks, and almost-warm swims in the lake. After all, what better time to celebrate summer than Independence Day weekend?
This year, as we gathered around the fire pit to make s’mores and watch the local fireworks, I couldn’t help but think about my mom and wonder how Independence Day must have felt for her. My mother, of blessed memory, was disabled. When I was turning five and gaining more independence daily, my mom began using a wheelchair and seemed to be losing hers. From that point on, she faced constant challenges and barriers to independent living, and largely relied on my dad to help her live a full life.
I don’t usually have such significant thoughts as I relax with friends, but this July will also mark the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act – the ADA. By no means has the ADA resolved all the challenges people with disabilities face daily, but it has certainly changed America’s accessibility, attitude, and awareness.
There was no ADA when I was a young child growing up with a mom with disabilities. Then, 25 years ago, the ADA gave civil rights to people with disabilities, making it illegal to discriminate based on disability in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications. Later, as a teenager, I saw the world slowly transform for my mother as curb cuts appeared on sidewalks, elevators and lifts were installed, public transportation became a more viable option, and parking spaces were available in every almost lot.
Now, as an adult, I know that removing barriers is not the same as creating opportunities. Twenty-five years later, across the country, unemployment rates for people with disabilities are disproportionately high; accessible and adequate educational opportunities are hard to find; and, transportation options remain sorely lacking.
In 1990, advocates fought for change and achieved tremendous success in the form of the ADA. Now, in 2015, during the month in which we celebrate our country’s independence, let’s join together to recommit as advocates for access to true independence for people with disabilities. I am so proud to be part of a team at JCRC that is doing just that. Thanks to passionate and visionary supporters (including several individuals and the Ruderman Family Foundation), JCRC is advocating for employment services and community supports for our Commonwealth’s residents with disabilities and will continue to work with the disability community as staunch advocates for services, opportunities, and inclusion.
Before we get much further past the pomp and circumstance of July 4th, join me in taking a moment to think about the true meaning of independence and what it will take to make it more attainable for all. As we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the ADA, let’s create a new vision for independence that we’ll be celebrating 25 years from now, and let’s get to work to make it a reality!
Elana H. Margolis