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

Multimedia Social Media Documenting, Not Driving, Hong Kong Protests

Unlike in Arab Spring uprisings, pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong aren't relying on Twitter and Facebook to organize, but social media still plays a role More

Analysis: Occupy Central Not Exactly Hong Kong’s Tiananmen

VOA's former Hong Kong, Beijing correspondent compares and contrasts 1989 Tiananmen Square protest with what is now happening in Hong Kong More

Bambari Hospital a Lone Place of Help in Violence-Plagued CAR

Only establishment still functioning in CAR's second city is main hospital 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.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid