There were a lot of banners, speeches and cake, performances and art exhibits, and talk about what has been and what needs to come. After years of planning and a month full of celebrations, the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act has come and gone. But what action will we be called to as individuals over the next 25 years? Frankly, I didn’t know ANYTHING about the ADA 25 years ago. I wasn’t part of the lobbies or marches to get it passed. I wasn’t at the White House when that historic photo of President George H. Bush and Justin Dart was taken during the signing ceremony. I, like thousands of other practitioners around the country, was simply assigned the responsibility of ADA compliance. #28 on our job descriptions — “other duties as assigned” came to also mean “ADA/504/Accessibility Coordinator.” Like any anniversary, there is a tendency to be introspective. As practitioners in the field of Accessibility Management, we can use this opportunity to reflect on the historical context of the ADA, learn from the barriers and progress that has been made, and focus on the future as we continue to work together to improve access and inclusion of people with disabilities. Here are 10 ways to celebrate the ADA in the field of Accessibility Management:
1. Explore. Check out the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History virtual exhibit on disability history EveryBody: An Artifact History of Disability in America. The Smithsonian has been documenting disability for more than 50 years. The web exhibit has some extraordinary images, including many from photojournalist Tom Olin following the disability rights movement up to the ADA. What images and artifacts speak to you?
2. Be outraged. Thanks to the archives of the Ragged Edge magazine, “the long and sorry history of disability discrimination” has been archived on the web. The narrative evolved from the amicus briefs filed in the 2000 Supreme Court case, Board Of Trustees Of The University Of Alabama, Et Al., v. Patricia Garrett, Et Al. It is MUST reading for every accessibility coordinator.
3. Educate. What do you know about the events leading up to the ADA? “The history of the ADA did not begin on July 26, 1990 at the signing ceremony at the White House,” writes Arlene Mayerson. She is the directing attorney at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund dedicating her career to disability rights. Mayerson’s 1992 article “The History of the Americans with Disabilities Act” has been posted to the DREDF web site as a reminder that the ADA did not just happen overnight.
4. Cogitate. I’m just a bill sitting here on Capitol Hill. Read the Congressional Record of the 101st Congress (1989-1990). Is it any wonder how a bill can become a law?
5. Meet. How connected are you to your local disability advocacy organizations? Seek out one new organization this week to meet and learn what barriers, needs and concerns people with disabilities have for accessing the programs, services and activities in your community.
6. Archive. Develop an archive of the accessibility improvements that have been made at your facilities with “before and after photos.” What project created the greatest access for people with disabilities? What project was the biggest challenge? How are you getting the word out that improved access exists at these facilities?
7. Tour. Take new employees on a tour of your organization pointing out the accessibility features for people with disabilities. Share information on the processes for people with disabilities to request auxiliary aids and services through your organization so they can pass on this information when inquiries come in from the public.
8. Call. Have you met another accessibility coordinator at a conference or training? Give them a call. What are they up to? What creative approaches on accessibility management can you share with one another?
9. Thank your favorite Accessibility Specialist! Hundreds of professionals in the Disability Rights Section of the Department of Justice, at the U.S. Access Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the National Network of ADA Centers have provided countless hours of technical assistance to accessibility coordinators trying to decipher the standards and regulations. You know you call them! You know you e-mail them! (Because it was easier to call them than to look it up yourself.) (I admit, I’ve done it too.) Take some time and send them a thank you for taking the time to make sure you had the right information to make the best decisions.
10. Focus. How can we make access work better for people with disabilities seeking to participate in our programs, services, activities and at our supporting facilities? What challenges still exist in your organization? In your community? Where can you influence change?