Celebrating 25 Years
21 Years with the ADA - Part IV
By Paula Green
My first day of employment with Southwest Center for Independent Living (SCIL) was four days after the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in July 1990. There was a lot of excitement and celebration in the world of disabilities and I had no clue what the ADA was about. I thought ADA stood for the American Diabetes Association and the concept of the Independent Living (IL) Philosophy was foreign to me!
Quickly, I learned how much the ADA was needed to gain the independence of people with disabilities and still 21 years later, the need remains for public education on the ADA and equality for those with disabilities. They have always had a difficult battle to fight.
Over time I began to understand the IL focus of putting the person first and disability last. My IL education taught me that people with disabilities were just like everyone else and come in all kinds of personalities while facing the same life challenges as those without disabilities.
What I didn’t know 21 years ago, is that the “they” would become a “we” because I too would become a person with a disability. After two years at SCIL, I had learned a lot about disabilities and the IL philosophy, but now I was living it; because in 1992 I was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy.
I have always been independent, living on my own, working, enjoying my family and keeping active. However, as my disability progressed I realize that to continue with my life, I had to go about things in a different way. I now use assistive technology and have added accessibility features to my home.
But in the end, I am still a person, just one who happens to have a disability. I, like most people, want to be valued and have the same opportunities to provide for myself and my family. It is important to me to contribute to the community and leave a mark on this life.
Do you know the saying that everything happens for a reason? I believe that working for SCIL helped me to deal with my own disability and to enable me to empower others to realize that they too, can live independently. Twenty-one years later, I know now that the ADA means freedom because I can go to public places that are accessible and I am allowed the opportunity to work.
The ADA has opened doors for people with disabilities and while enforcement of the law isn’t perfect, we must continue to fight for the SCIL mission: to promote a barrier-free environment for all individuals with disabilities through public education and advocacy for social change so that others will have the freedom to live independently!