We’ve come a long way, baby — the ADA turns 26 on Tuesday

Blind justiceI started losing my eyesight in 1984, when I was 25 years old. At first I didn’t use a white cane or a guide dog. I quit driving or riding my bike, but I could still see well enough to walk to my job as the Assistant Director of the Study Abroad Office at a Big Ten university.

Most of my work back then involved counseling college students on study abroad options — I could have done that with my eyes closed! As my eyesight got worse, though, I started making mistakes in the office. I still remember spilling grounds all over the floor on my way to make the morning coffee. I had to sit close to my computer screen to see the words. I ran into tabletops.

At some point my boss took me aside and told me I wouldn’t be going to the annual convention with my colleagues. “You’ll embarrass the office,” she said. Months later, my contract was terminated.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrates its 26th anniversary tomorrow, July 26, 2016. The landmark federal legislation was passed five years after I lost that job. Designed to improve access to services and employment opportunities, it was intended to eliminate illegal discrimination and level the playing field for people like me who live with disabilities.

I am totally blind now, and I use speech software to moderate this blog for Easterseals. I’ve had two books published, and have another one on the way. I record pieces for public radio from time to time, and I lead four different memoir-writing classes for older adults in Chicago every week.

It’s true we have a long, long way to go before hiring practices are totally fair to those of us who can’t see, use wheelchairs, or have a myriad of other disabilities. Things are moving in the right direction, though, and thanks to the wisdom and determination of the many people who banded together to get the ADA passed 26 years ago, we have the law on our side.


 

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