News / USA

Life is Better for Americans With Disabilities on 20th Anniversary of Bill

Bobbi Wailes contracted polio as a child. Today she runs the Lincoln Center programs for disability
Bobbi Wailes contracted polio as a child. Today she runs the Lincoln Center programs for disability

Multimedia

Audio

Twenty years ago this week, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA.  It mandates minimum standards for the inclusion of the disabled in public buildings, the workplace and other areas.  An anniversary celebration for the ADA was held in New York on Monday, where people with disabilities talked about the impact the bill has had on their lives.



Tap Waterz and Rick Fire, the wheelchair-bound members of the Hip Hop duo Four Wheel City, performed at the start of the celebration.  The event was co-hosted by the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities and the Project Access organization and attended by an enthusiastic crowd of more than 200 guests, many with disabilities.

The Hip-Hop duo 4-Wheel City often raps about disability issues
The Hip-Hop duo 4-Wheel City often raps about disability issues

After his act, Waterz, who was paralyzed by a gunshot wound, says the spirit of inclusion at the event is part of the message behind Four Wheel City's music.

"We make songs that deal with accessibility, discrimination, educating people about how to deal with living in a wheelchair," he explained. "Our whole thing is just showing people that no matter what you go through, you still can make something out of yourself.  What our music is and what our music represents is universal."

Noticeable improvements

Here in Manhattan, New York's wealthiest and most touristed borough, there are ample curb cuts and ramps for wheelchairs, and other amenities for the disabled.  The streets are mostly flat.

Rick Fire, Waterz' partner, was wounded several years ago by a stray bullet on the way home from school.  He says that conditions are far better than they were in 1990 when the ADA became law, and that they are improving.  But, he says, ease of mobility still is a frequent challenge in his low-income Bronx neighborhood.

"Where I'm from, there are a lot of hills and there is a lot of places I can't go.  There are still buildings where I can't get in because they've got steps," he noted.  "But overall, it's good.  Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, we are being more accepted.  Having a disability, people still look at you weird, but it's like, 'Alright.  He's got a disability, but it's kind of okay now.'"

Normal life

Life for people with disabilities has improved greatly since Bobbi Wailes was stricken with polio as a 12-year-old, before the vaccine became available in the 1950s.  In those days, schools were not wheelchair accessible and she had to be tutored at home three days a week.  Adult polio victims often lived in institutions.  

But Wailes was determined to have a normal life.  After high school, she got a job in a hospital - one of the few workplaces with accessible bathrooms.  She worked at the hospital for 30 years, mostly as an administrator.  During that time, she and others fought to make the ADA a reality for  the disabled.

"Let me tell you something, disability doesn't care if you're young, old, rich, poor, black, white, green or purple," she said.  "Disabilities will always be with us, unfortunately.  So it behooves all of us to make it a world that everybody can live in."

Getting personal

Matthew Sapolin, who is blind, is the Commissioner of the the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities
Matthew Sapolin, who is blind, is the Commissioner of the the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities

As Commissioner of the Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities and as a blind man, it is Matthew Sapolin's mission to fulfill the spirit and the letter of the ADA by working to ensure that New Yorkers with disabilities can live, work and learn here with relative ease.

That means, for example, working to improve the city's transportation system with more wheelchair accessible taxis, and providing working elevators for the subways and motorized lifts for buses.  Sapolin says it also means working with the school system to ensure that children with disabilities receive the same education as their non-disabled peers, and seeing to it that that all public buildings comply with ADA requirements.

"If we are going to build something - how we build it, how we construct it so that it would be accessible to people of all types of disabilities, whether we talk about a ramp or we talk about a doorway or a handrail, if we are talking about people who are blind, things like braille on elevators and signage and things like that," Sapolin said. "So those codes are all there.  We see them all over our city.  And I think that's the tangibility of the Act that's obvious for everyone to see."

Future improvements

Although there's near universal agreement that the Americans with Disabilities Act was a huge step forward, many Americans say that much work remains to be done to ensure the equality of access that all people deserve.

In practical terms, experts say, this will require the extensive upgrading of an aging infrastructure put in place before the ADA was came into being.  It also means increasing opportunities for the disabled in employment and other spheres of public life.  Disability advocates say that also will help diminish the negative stereotyping that people with disabilities sometimes still endure.

You May Like

Analyst: Joint-Arab Military Force Poses Perilous Challenge

Although international forces are desperately needed to counter the threat of the Islamic State group, analysts say conflicting alliances could escalate fighting More

Asia’s Middle Class Changes Demand for Wheat Grain Exporters

Changes in tastes and diets are boon for wheat exporters such as Australia and the United States More

S. African Comedian Taking Over Popular TV Show

Mixed-race comedian Trevor Noah, who is loved for his edgy jibes about race and language, is taking the helm from Jon Stewart at The Daily Show in US More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadistsi
X
Greg Flakus
March 30, 2015 6:48 PM
At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video With Coalition Airstrikes, Iraq Entering 'Last Page' of IS Battle

American warplanes joined Iraq's battle against the so-called 'Islamic State' in northern Iraq late Wednesday, as Iraqi ground troops launched a massive assault on Tikrit. Analysts say the offensive could take the coalition a step further towards Mosul, the largest city held by Islamic State forces. Others say it could also deepen already-dangerous sectarian tensions in the region. VOA's Heather Murdock has more from Cairo.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
Video

Video Hi-tech Motorbike Helmet's Goal: Improve Road Safety

In cities with heavily congested traffic, people can get around much faster on a motorcycle than in a car. But a rider who is not sure of his route may have to stop to look at the map or consult a GPS. A Russian start-up company is working to make navigation easier for motorcyclists. Designers at Moscow-based LiveMap are developing a smart helmet with a built-in navigation system, head-mounted display and voice recognition. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video DOJ: Illinois National Guard Soldier Tried to Join ISIS

U.S. federal law enforcement agents arrested two suburban Chicago men accused of trying to join ISIS overseas, while also plotting attacks in the United States. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports from the Midwest state of Illinois, one of those arrested is a soldier of the Illinois National Guard.
Video

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Traditional push-rim wheelchairs create a lot of stress for arm, shoulder and neck muscles and joints. A redesigned chair, based on readily available bicycle technology, radically increases mobility while reducing the physical effort. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.

VOA Blogs

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More