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

US Gives Malaysia Questionable Upgrade in Human Trafficking Ranks

Malaysia’s upgrade seen as removing barrier to country’s participation in the US-led 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership More

Turkey, US Try to Establish Buffer Despite Differences

Coalition airstrikes in proposed zone would aim to drive out Islamic extremists, allowing targeted area to come under sway of anti-Assad rebels More

Video US: Millions Exploited by Vast Fortunes of Human Trafficking

State Department's annual report calls exploitation 'modern slavery,' brutalizing girls, women into prostitution and forcing men, women and children into low-wage jobs across the globe 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.
US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Wini
X
July 28, 2015 12:21 AM
The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Obama Encourages Kenya to Fix Cultures of Corruption, Discrimination

President Barack Obama bid farewell to Kenya Sunday with a major speech at as stadium outside the capital Nairobi where he called on Kenyans to change the cultures of corruption and discrimination that can hold society back. VOA East Africa Correspondent Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video California Towns Welcome Special Olympics Athletes

Cities and towns in Southern California are greeting thousands of athletes who are arriving for Special Olympics, a competition for people with intellectual disabilities. The games will run from July 25th through August 2nd. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, where athletes from Namibia, Singapore and Tanzania got a rousing welcome from local residents.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.
Video

Video Hoverbike Flying Toward Reality

Another long-standing dream of many technological inventors is quickly approaching reality: U.S.- and British-based firms are cooperating in the development of an individual flying platform they call a hoverbike. They say it may revolutionize the concept of flying, including in the U.S. military. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video As Japan Expands Defense Role, Protests Follow

The Japanese government is moving forward with a controversial security bill that would authorize the military to fight abroad for the first time since World War II. Leaders say it is critical to defend against rising threats from China and North Korea. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Japan on the big changes ahead, and the opposition they are drawing.
Video

Video Replacing Poppies with Coffee in Myanmar

The remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state are home to the second-largest opium-producing region in the world. After a drop during the 2000s, production surged in the past eight years to feed an increasing demand for heroin in China. But farmers are now making less on the crop, and the U.N. is hoping many will make the switch to growing coffee. Daniel de Carteret reports for VOA from Taunggyi.

VOA Blogs