The Americans with Disabilities Act is turning 29 on July 26.
How are you going to celebrate?
As we age, we don’t celebrate birthdays and anniversaries as frequently as when we were kids. We tend to only pop open the champagne and celebrate the big ones, those divisible by 5 or 10. That’s okay. Everyone has their own style and preference for celebrating milestones. But as an ADA community of individuals, advocates and practitioners, it is important that we acknowledge its anniversary. The ADA is, after all, the single greatest piece of legislation guaranteeing civil rights and inclusion of people with disabilities. It is important that we take the time to celebrate the opportunities the ADA has created, evaluate the current status of disability in our country, and look to setting new goals for building healthy, inclusive communities. July 26, the anniversary of the ADA, presents the perfect opportunity to celebrate the milestones while expanding awareness of disability, accessibility, and inclusion. Here are 7 ways you can celebrate the ADA and create greater awareness in your community:
1. Hold an ADA Listening Session. Do you really know what people with disabilities and family members think about accessibility and inclusion within the community? Maybe it’s time for purposeful listening. Invite people to make public comment in a formal community listening session or town hall. Instructions should provide structure for comments: an introduction of the person’s experience with disability, what is their perception of accessibility to public services and businesses, what suggestions do they have for improving access for people with disabilities in the community. The session should be hosted or moderated by an individual with knowledge of disability and the ADA. The comments should have a time limit, preferably 3-5 minutes. The comments should be recorded and synthesized into a report that can be presented to civic leaders. Individuals making comments should be acknowledged and thanked for taking the time to share their perspectives.
One note of caution: There is nothing worse than someone asking for your input, taking the time to share your perspective and then no change or results coming out of it. A truly effective listening session is PURPOSEFUL! It is designed for organizers to process the input received and take ACTION. Consider putting a plan into place to follow up with individuals, both to ask more questions and provide an update about what change was affected as a result of their public comment.
2. Ditch the ADA Info Fair for Speed Dating. Have you ever been to an information fair where the people staffing the booths outnumber the people visiting the booths 10 to 1? There’s always the time at the end of the event to question whether contacts made were worth the investment of time and resources. Is there a better way for businesses, public entities, disability service providers, advocates and consumers with disabilities to meet face to face? Maybe it’s time to come out from behind the table at the information booth and speed date around the room. People want to know how they connect to the ADA and one another. Consider using the concept of speed dating to give folks an opportunity to meet, discover their shared interests, and learn how their ADA relationship may be of benefit to one another.
3. Celebrate Accessibility with a Good Game of ADA Bingo. Who doesn’t love getting their BINGO square stamped? Celebrate the accessibility of local businesses with a month-long BINGO or scavenger hunt game. The game can be designed to encourage people to visit businesses and service providers that are accessible and inclusive of people with disabilities. For some, it might be the first time they have ever visited a business that has been made accessible. Of course, prizes for completing a BINGO card are icing on the cake!
4. Talk ADA with the Chamber. Even though the ADA has been around for 27 years, its astonishing how many people don’t know their rights or responsibilities. Talk with members of the local chamber of commerce and business organizations about Title I and Title III responsibilities, resources, and opportunities to include people with disabilities both as new patrons and as employees.
5. Host an ADA Legal Update. Litigation under the ADA continues to evolve. Consider hosting an ADA legal update presented by legal experts such as your U.S. District attorney’s office, the state or local human rights commission, or the state protection and advocacy organization. These legal presentations are a great way to understand the most current litigation and emerging legal trends under the ADA.
Don’t forget to tune into the ADA Anniversary Update webinar hosted by the ADA National Network and featuring representatives of the EEOC and DOJ. This is one of the BEST annual opportunities to hear directly from the enforcement agencies as they present an update on their litigation, technical assistance and enforcement efforts over the past year.
6. Harmonize the ADA Standards with State and Local Codes. Are the accessibility standards referenced in your state and local codes older than a box of rocks? Does your state or local code still reference the maximum reach range as 54 inches above the finish floor? Maybe it’s time to organize a working group or sessions to update the accessibility references in your state or local building code so they are consistent with the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design. Certainly, this is no small undertaking. Nor is it for the faint of heart. It requires a commitment from individuals knowledgeable of the different accessibility standards and able to give time to ensure the state and local codes are harmonized with the most current model codes.
7. Visualize the ADA: A Day in the City. What does the ADA look like through the lens of people living with disability in your community? Consider organizing a photo essay contest where entries submit five photos that illustrate the ADA as a day in the life. This type of contest can easily be organized through social media. You can take it to the next level by creating a display of public art or gallery exhibit. Be sure to ask for visual descriptions to be submitted with each entry to share the images and make them accessible for everyone.
One last thing…..
Birthdays and anniversaries have a tendency to sneak up on us. We can easily be overwhelmed to quickly put together some sort of celebration with very few days to plan. It’s okay to forego the streamers and balloons. Consider using one of the suggestions later in the year or even come July 2020. The important thing here, and every July 26, is that we take the time to reflect on the spirit and intent of the ADA; celebrate the incredible impact it has made for millions of Americans with disabilities; and ask how we can continue to affect change.