By: Lauren Matthys
I have a confession to make. A couple of weekends ago, I was trying to find a parking spot at a popular concert venue in Dallas. Disgruntled by the lack of structure, I start to leave the lot to relocate to one less inhabited, when low and behold I spot one in a prime location, right in the front row. I zip into it without even thinking, and then my friends and I pile out of the car. As we’re walking towards the entrance of the venue, a man comes running up to us, obviously upset. He claimed that we parked in a handicapped parking lot. Embarrassed (especially since I had just accepted a position at Student Disability Services), I apologized profusely and run over to move my car. On the way he tells me his wife has osteosarcoma, a bone cancer that has rendered her immobile. It sounds silly, but this circumstance really made me stop and reflect on how 25 years ago, the life of this man and his wife would have been very different.
So, my question is: Have you ever stopped and thought about how handicapped parking came to fruition? Or voice-activated crosswalks? Or handicapped accessible public buses? Or asked yourself why you have to duck down to drink out of a fountain? Or why that first row is reserved at the movie theater?
With today marking the kickoff of Disability Awareness Week, I feel like we must pay homage to the two bills that changed the lives of thousands of individuals with disabilities. Here are some quick facts regarding Section 504 and the ADA to feed your mind.
Section 504: Did you know?
- Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was the first federally mandated law demanding equal rights to individuals with a disability.
- Under the 504, an individual with a disability “must not be subjected to discrimination under any activity or program that receives federal financial assistance.”
- Although Section 504 was progressive for its time and set the precedence for future legislation, it was limited in whom it served. This narrow scope of representation led to a plea for a more universal act, hence the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
ADA: Did you know?
- July 26, 2015 marked the 25th anniversary of the ADA —a piece of legislation put into place by President George H.W. Bush.
- The ADA encapsulated years of fervent effort by the American people who fought for equal rights to be granted to individuals with disabilities across many public and private settings.
- The ADA “prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, state and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications.”
- The ADA made disabilities visible to the public eye, which in turn started a cultural movement of acceptance.
- Like many other civil rights events in our history, the reversal of the “out of sight, out of mind” philosophy takes time to dissipate, and the introduction of the ADA was no exception.
- Since it’s passing in 1990, awareness has gradually heightened and has led to a more compassionate culture where accommodating those with disabilities is a priority across all disciplines.
I believe one of the primary ways to increase awareness and to advance the cultural realm of disabilities is through self-education. Although the ADA facilitated much progress in terms of equality and awareness, there are still many lingering and misguided misconceptions about what constitutes a disability. For instance, what first comes to mind when you think of the word ‘disabled’? Someone in a wheelchair? A veteran? An individual with a hearing or visual impairment, perhaps? One of the stigmas associated with disabilities is that they are primarily physical; that mental or psychological impairments don’t qualify someone as disabled, because they seem less apparent or debilitating. That is simply not the case. Section 504 defines a person with a disability as “any person who:
- has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities;
- has a record of such an impairment;
- is regarded as having such an impairment.”
Therefore, the range of what is considered a disability is vast, and at Student Disability Services we have students who fall under hundreds of different categories. Here are just a few of the many disabilities we accommodate:
- Learning Disabilities (dyslexia, dysgraphia, auditory processing disorder, dyscalculia, visual-motor disorder, etc.)
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADD/ADHD)
- Psychological (depression, bipolar, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Autism, sleep disorders, etc.)
- Mobility (cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, scoliosis, fibromyalgia, arthritis, etc.)
- Hearing Impairments
- Visual Impairments
- Chronic Illness (Crohn’s, lupus, AIDS/HIV, heart disease, epilepsy, diabetes, etc.)
- Traumatic brain injury
- Speech/language disorders
I feel like a quote from George H.W. Bush perfectly sums up the strides we have made to accommodate those with disabilities but also serves as a reminder that the battle has not been won; there are still many things that need to be done to push this issue further.
“There is no place in our society for prejudice of any kind. We can all take pride in how much the ADA has accomplished, which is evident every time you attend a sporting event, ride the subway, or go to work. Yet, there is always more to be done. As long as we never forget that every life is a miracle and each person has something to contribute, we will finish the job.”
So, next time you’re on a bus, plane, train, at work, or simply going to one of your favorite concerts, stop and think about how far we’ve come to accommodate individuals with disabilities and also what you can do to spread awareness.