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

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines 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.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid