The Fight for 504

The Fight for 504

When I first learned about the 504 sit-in protest that occurred in 1977, it enriched and deepened my pride in being a disabled person. It made me even more honored to be a part of the disability community. It educated me on the struggle for securing our civil rights, and ignited a passion that I have today, to continue to fight for disability justice and equality.

In case you don’t know about what the Fight for 504 is, here is a brief historical recap: In 1973 Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act was signed into law. The text of Section 504 states: “No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States shall solely on the basis of his handicap, be excluded from the participation, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” This means no person should be excluded from any program, service, or similar which receives federal funds.

This was the first civil rights law written specifically for the disabled. It is considered a pre-cursor to the Americans with Disabilities Act that was passed years later in 1990. But while disabled advocates were cheering 504, business and government leaders weren’t

Toward Independence Report Issued: A Precursor to the ADA

Toward Independence Report Issued: A Precursor to the ADA

Four years prior to the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, a report called Toward Independence was issued by the National Council on Disability (NCD), based in Washington D.C. The Council is comprised of roughly a dozen council members, and led and supported by an Executive Director, legislative and administrative support staff. The NCD is an independent federal agency charged with advising the President, Congress, and other federal agencies regarding policies, programs, practices, and procedures that affect people with disabilities.

As described on its website, the NCD works to fulfill its mission by NCD fulfills its advisory roles regarding disability policies, programs, procedures, and practices that enhance equal opportunity by:

  • Convening stakeholders to acquire timely and relevant input for recommendations and action steps

  • Gathering and analyzing data and other information

  • Engaging and influencing current debates and agendas

  • Identifying and formulating solutions to emerging and long-standing challenges; and

  • Providing tools to facilitate effective implementation

Discrimination Diaries

Discrimination Diaries

It's hard to underscore the importance of the personal testimonies of Discrimination Diaries that lead to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Just hearing statistics and third person references about being disabled isn't the same thing as hearing what living with a disability is like, directly from someone who is living it.

April 1988, Justin Dart, then Chair of the Congressional Task Force on the Rights and Empowerment of People with Disabilities, began traveling the country (at his own expense) to hold public hearings to gather evidence to support the need for broad anti-discrimination protections. The documents and audio recordings became the collective Discrimination Diaries. The forums were attended by thousands of people willing to step forward and document the injustice and discrimination they faced due to their disability. 63 forums were held in total, one in every state, including the territory of Guam. 

Civil Rights protections for disabled people was a key purpose of the ADA. To learn what needed to be included in the law, the disability community was asked to testify about how they are discriminated against in all areas of daily life. People were asked not only to describe physical barriers to access they encountered, but also societal prejudices and biases.

Why I Love Mobility Grabbers/Reachers

Why I Love Mobility Grabbers/Reachers

One of the tools that my husband and I use the most around our house is our grabbers. I have to admit that I never owned one prior to living with him, but since he introduced me to them, I use them all the time.

When you are shopping for a grabber, I recommend you consider the following features. You want a grabber with a strong aluminum frame construction. The handle should feel comfortable to grip. And most of all, you want the "mouth," if you will, to be strong! Ours use a thin rope mechanism that pulls the grabbing mouth closed when you pull the trigger on the handle. The harder you squeeze, the tighter it will hold on to whatever you are picking up.

We like this style (verses the suction cup style that is also popular) for its small pinching profile. It can fit into tight corners and pick up fairly small objects. Coins or thin paper on the ground is fairly easy for us to pick up with this grabber.

IDEA: Access to Public Education for Disabled Children

IDEA: Access to Public Education for Disabled Children

I don't remember everything about being five years old, but I do remember kindergarten. I remember story-time, and recess. I remember how much I loved to do coloring and read my first books. I also remember my mom and I having to go to special meetings with the principal and my teacher. Even though I didn't understand everything they were talking about, I understood enough to know these were meetings that other kids didn't have.

When you hear phrases like, "Jody's special" or "Jody needs her own desk, but don't make a big deal about it", or "be careful of Jody at recess, she can't get knocked over by other kids," you hear your name a lot, and realize that must mean something, even though you don't understand exactly what.

Of course I now know what all that was about. I was benefiting from IDEA: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. You probably haven't heard of IDEA, but millions of disabled children have had equal and integrated educations thanks to this law. More specifically, it is the most important piece of civil rights legislation for children with disabilities ever passed in this country. It authorizes federal aid to meet the educational needs of children with disabilities and provides due process rights to parents.

About the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

About the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

It's kind of ironic when you think about it. An international human rights treaty that is said to have been inspired by the Americans with Disabilities Act exists without ratification by the United States itself. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocols was adopted at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on December 13, 2006, and opened for signature on March 30, 2007. There were 82 signatories to the Convention, 44 signatories to the Optional Protocol, and 1 ratification of the Convention. This is the highest number of signatories in history to a UN Convention on its opening day. The Convention entered into force on 3 May 2008.

The Convention views disability as a socially created problem and moves beyond access to the physical environment to broader issues of equality and elimination of legal and social barriers to participation, opportunity, health, education, employment and personal development. It embraces the key principal of the independent living movement: the right of people with disabilities to have the same options, freedom, control and self-determination in everyday life that people without disabilities have.

The United States didn't sign on immediately. Not until 2009 when President Obama said from the East Wing of the White House, "Disability rights aren’t just civil rights to be enforced here at home; they’re universal rights to be recognized and promoted around the world."

Disability Representation In Emojis

Disability Representation In Emojis

Sometimes it is the smallest things that can make a really big difference. When Apple announced in March that they were submitting 13 disability specific emojis to the Unicode Consortium, the disability community rejoiced.

"Currently, emoji provide a wide range of options, but may not represent the experiences of those with disabilities," Apple wrote in the proposal. "Diversifying the options available helps fill a significant gap and provides a more inclusive experience for all."

As we often say in the disabled community: it's about (damn) time!

Introducing a set of emojis representing disability may seem like a very inconsequential gesture of inclusion. But having symbols that acknowledge your existence too, is a big deal.

You Really Need To Know About ADAPT

You Really Need To Know About ADAPT

Ask someone who ADAPT is and odds are they won't know. This is really quite a shame. Because ADAPT is one of the strongest and most brave activist organizations that you will ever meet. ADAPT is a grassroots disability rights organization with chapters in 30 states. It uses nonviolent direct action in order to bring attention and awareness to the lack of civil rights the disability community has. In fact, they advocate for millions of people who could never begin to appreciate the personal, physical and financial sacrifices they make in public acts of civil disobedience, wherein many times they are fined, prosecuted and jailed.

Remember seeing all the news reports last summer of protests in Washington DC prior to the vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act? Many of those disabled men and women were members of ADAPT.

Justin Dart: Father of the Americans With Disabilities Act

Justin Dart: Father of the Americans With Disabilities Act

It often surprises me how many people in the disabled community, when asked, have never heard of Justin Dart. I've been disabled my whole life and it wasn't until my mid-30s while working at an independent living center that I learned about Dart. Who he was, and what a large contribution he made to securing the Americans With Disabilities Act. In fact, he is referred to as the “father of the ADA” because he was an influential leader in the disability rights movement for nearly 40 years.

Key Disability Rights Cases

Key Disability Rights Cases

On the 28th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it seems appropriate to look back to some of the key disability rights cases that have been decided since the law was passed. If anyone tries to tell you, disabled or not, that the rights of access and equality that have been achieved for disabled people for the over the course of the last 50-60 years are locked in forever, immune to legal challenges or regulatory roll backs, don't believe them. Because it is just. not. true.

Take for example, the most recent passage of HR 620 in the US House of Representatives. Known as the 2017 ADA Education and Reform Act, its purpose is to amend the 1990 ADA law, requiring a "notice and cure" period whereby a person asserting their civil rights are being infringed would have to provide a written notice to business owners, and they would be allowed time to respond.