In this episode of Change Makers, we’re talking about the Americans with Disabilities Act, better known as the ADA. We’re going to talk briefly about how the ADA came about and what the ADA has accomplished, what advances should be made and how to advocate for yourself or a loved one.
On this Podcast (In Order of Appearance)
The federal government provides substantial financial support for special education, including education for students who are blind or visually impaired. Each year, Congress decides how much funding to allocate to programs like APH. Congress will soon be making those decisions.
Parents, educators, and students, are the best messengers to educate Congress or state legislatures about the educational needs of students who are blind or visually impaired and the services that ensure success.
Providing information to educate a member of Congress or other policymaker is legal, expected and very helpful to them in doing their job. An email or phone call describing your experience with available educational material like accessible books, technology or special instruction aids is very useful.
Access Technology Affordability Act (ATAA)
Welcome to change makers, a podcast from APH. We're talking to people from around the world who are creating positive change in the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired. Here's your host.Sara :
Hello, and welcome to Change Makers. I'm APH's Public Relations Manager Sara Brown and today we're talking about the Americans with Disabilities Act, better known as the ADA. We're going to talk briefly about how the ADA came about in what the ADA has accomplished. We'll also learn what advances should still be made and how to advocate for yourself, or a loved one. For those not aware, the ADA is a Civil Rights Law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public individuals with a disability face challenges, finding employment, or even just entering a building or business, whether it was an employer, not wanting to hire someone in a wheelchair or not wanting to make simple accommodations for an individual with a visual impairment. Disability advocates began to demand equal treatment, equal access and equal opportunities for people with disabilities, which eventually led to the law. In addition to a slight increase in employment for individuals with a disability, some of the ADA's accomplishments are some of the things we encounter in daily life. Have you ever walked on those nubbly bits of concrete near street corner? That's called tactile paving. It helps visually impaired pedestrians detect when they're about to leave the sidewalk and enter the street. Have you ever walked up a wheelchair ramp? Yep . That's something that came about due to the ADA. And there are rules about the slope of the ramp that one must follow. Have you ever noticed that door handles to a building are most likely lever operated or U shaped? Those are the acceptable designs because they're easier for people to grasp doors with public access must be able to be used with only one hand and can't require the user to tightly grasp or pinch or twist their wrists to operate the handle. The ADA impacted restrooms as well. There's always a restroom that's large enough to accommodate a wheelchair and you'll notice that the toilet might be a little bit higher and there might even be a pool bar, but despite all the physical changes, there's still much work to be done as society grows and evolves. And there's still a need for advances and improvements when it comes to the ABA. Now we're talking to APH's Vice President, Government and Community Affairs, Paul Schrader. Hello, Paul, and welcome to Change Makers.Paul:
I Sarah , thanks for the invite.Sara :
So, Paul, do you mind briefly to explain what you do as Vice President, Government and Community Affairs? \.Paul:
Happy to and thanks for having me on, I joined , uh, the American Printing House back in December to take on this position. I'm excited about it. I'm actually following in the giant footsteps of Gary Mudd and I know he was on the podcast earlier , uh, talking about his experience in Washington and elsewhere. So there's really two pieces to this job. One is to help look after the appropriation, the federal funding that comes to APH and has done so since 1879, 1880, the law passed in 1879. Of course, then we've got 140, 140, some odd years of history of federal funding to support education of blind students and they're coming to APH . So, so a key part of the job is looking after that, making sure Congress knows what we do and understands the importance of it. Um, answer questions and be engaged as much as possible with helping to convey that message in Washington. I happen to live near Washington. Of course, Gary commuted here from Louisville when he would come for meetings. So I will be going the other way around because the second piece of my job , um , is related to , uh, various components of the American Printing House , uh, for example, helping to manage and support the museum, the prison braille program, the national instructional materials accessibility center , uh, and I'm forgetting some oh resource services of course, and a couple of others , um , that have been added tours as part of my area as well. So I have a really fun collection of cool programs , uh, that are based in Louisville that I get to work with as well. So I'll be doing the reverse of what Gary did. I'll be coming into Louisville periodically to talk with folksSara :
On July 26th, just a few weeks from now, it'll be 31 years since the ADA was signed into law by George H. W. Bush. And I just talked about some of the successes that ADA has had, but almost 31 years later, some advocates and researchers believe the ADA has not achieved as much as hoped? What advances and improvements are needed in your point of view?Paul:
You know, it's interesting, there's so much to talk about with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and I'll just start by saying a little, a little plug for, for being an older person here. Um, I was actually on the lawn way at the edge , uh , but I was there when , uh, George H. W. Bush signed the law on July 26th, 1990 . And , uh , my older daughter , uh, was , uh, going to be born October of that year. So she, she came of age right under the stars of ADA, which is kind of cool. Um, so, and I had done a little bit of work advocating for , uh, the law in my position in Ohio at that time. So I knew something about the , the challenges and the efforts. And I'll say a couple of things. The , the Americans with Disabilities act really stemmed from and came from a significant amount of advocacy on the part of people, primarily with physical disabilities, people who use wheelchairs in particular, because there was so much there , there were just extraordinary number of barriers, the things that we take for granted today, curb ramps and ramps into buildings, power doors, very little of that was true even 30 years ago. And so there was just an enormous amount of effort on the part of , of people who use wheelchairs to try to change and shift the way we think about accessibility in buildings and streets and the community, and even buses , um, putting lifts on buses or making buses that kneel, that people have probably run into come across some of those now, but I don't want to say run into a bus . Uh, so buses that can accommodate people in wheelchairs. I mean, these were huge driving force issues in the, in the 1980s that led up to the ADA. Some of us might say that the issues tied to people who are blind or visually impaired while not truly an afterthought were not really the key pieces of ADA. Of course. Um, there were people who talked about the internet in the world, not so much the worldwide web, but the internet in 1990, but it was an academic program that was not well understood. People really didn't see the value of what was going to happen with internet and certainly not mobile technologies. And so if we passed ADA today, there would be an extensive discussion of web internet, mobile, social media , uh , what to do with accessibility and all those terrains. But that wasn't true in 1990, what we talked a lot about was physical structures, how to access them, how to use them, how to make them accessible. And so for those of us who are blind, the most important parts of ADA were for sure, the employment title that makes it a discrimination to deny an opportunity to somebody with a disability , uh , based on that disability and to not accommodate that disability and employment. So to not provide some kind of assistance that would be appropriate to allow that person to do the job even to not interview and not let that person go through the process. If they're qualified, all of those things were really important, but some of the other titles speak much more to physical accessibility than they do to , uh , the kind of digital and information accessibility that we would have today. So to come back to your question, one piece that wasn't done in, in 1990 and has been a bumpy road since is digital accessibility, internet, web, social, mobile. Okay . And there've been some provisions in other laws to try to deal with that. There's been some regulatory effort to try to address that, but that's one. And then I think the second one that people, I mentioned employment, I think people are dissatisfied that, that we haven't achieved more. Um, I dunno , that was probably two negatives. So to put it the other way around, we should have, we should have achieved more than we have with the employment provisions of ADA. Um, some would say that the employment numbers are percentages are about where they were in 1990, that we haven't really moved the line, or if we have, we haven't moved it very far. I'm not sure because I think it's hard to really research this , um, to , to get good strong numbers on who has been, who is employed, who has a disability, but in any case, it is easy to point out that we haven't achieved as much as I think we'd like to see. We still have a very high unemployment rate compared to the general public and extraordinarily high lack of employment rate because they are different things. But either way, people with disabilities are not working anywhere near where I think all of us hoped we would do with the ADA. And there are reasons for that, that we can get into, but I'd say the two disappointing to two areas that people want to see work done in one would be the whole area of tech, accessibility, digital accessibility, and the other one being some meaningful, very much meaningful improvements in the employment numbers.Sara :
You know, you mentioned the tech part and that was signed in an era where internet and mobile phones and all the technology that we have at our fingertips. It just wasn't there. It was starting, it was, it was little pieces and it's evolved into what it's today. So that kind of feeds into this next question. So how does a broad law like the ADA change and adapt to new situations and circumstances just because, you know, it's created in the eighties, you know, mobile technology, the iPhones and all these devices that are electronic, they weren't around. It's like, this is a whole new era.Paul:
Yeah, absolutely. I think I went to a travel agent to get my airline or got them mailed to me to get my airline tickets , uh , younger listeners, just to have no idea what I'm talking about, but the July of 1990, it wasn't on my phone, let alone something, I could print off on my own printer. I had to go, I had to either get travel tickets from a travel agent or, or , uh , have the mail to me anyway. Yes. Things have changed remarkably in that time. There's the, the ADA is a fairly broad law, as you said, it's, it's written to be a Civil Rights law and it was intended to be broad. It was intended to send a very strong message of, we need to change society. We need society to, we need to push society to be its better self to adapt to the needs of people with disabilities, because we're all going to be better. And I, you know, the trivial example that we always cite , but it's true , uh, is the number of people who use curb ramps , uh , with strollers and , uh, other wheel devices, luggage, whatever, and find their life so much easier because they do. Um, if those curb ramps went away today, the people in wheelchairs would be the least , uh, loudest advocates, probably they would be loud, but there would be lots of louder ones, same thing for people who , um , watch sports or, or go to health clubs, captions on television , uh, came about after the ADA, but , um, hugely popular, not just for people who are deaf, but even more so for people who are trying to watch television in loud places. And so , um, these things have changed the world and they've changed the world for the better. Um, so how does an ally like ADA adapt? There's two ways. One is, well, there's really three ways. The first way is court cases. And so you started having cases filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act relatively quickly, as you can imagine , um, arguing about what is it, who does it actually apply to what is a public accommodation cause that's what the law speaks to in terms of accessibility. And so lots of efforts around defining what's in that what's in that list of public accommodations. And one of the interesting challenges has been , um, it's just geek out for just a second to bring this up. If you're, if you want to shop at a Target store, that's fine. It's a public accommodation to get into that store. You have to be able to access , um, and all of the things that, that are required for a physical, but what about if you want to use the website? That's not necessarily covered , uh, specific to public accommodation under ADA, but the courts have found, and it has been argued that the website is covered because it is an extension of that physical location. Now, what if , uh, what if a website doesn't have a physical location? I mean, for example, like an eBay , um, there's no eBay stores , at least I don't think there are. Um, and so you get into interesting things like that. So one way an ADA evolves is through court cases and we're still having them today. We just recently had a case , uh , involving Winn-Dixie in, in Florida that, that, you know , went to , uh , sort of against the interests of people with disabilities. The second way it evolves is through regulatory changes. Um, and that's, you know, a lot of agencies, transportation department of justice and , uh, some other federal communications commission, all created regulations that were driven by the Americans with Disabilities Act. And some of them , uh , have updated regulations of things as things have changed as we've learned or as court cases have , uh, changed the way things are defined under the ADA. So that's the second way. And then the third way is legislation that's the toughest way of all. Um , but there was a, an amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act back in the sort of early to mid first decade of the 2000s , um , to , and it was to deal with definitions around employment in particular, but it also addressed a couple of other things. So let legislative amendments, or the third way a law, like this changes, it's the hardest way because you have to get Congress to agree. And we all know from reading the papers or listening to the news that Congress agrees on very little today and, and, and that would be very tough to get. I think it would be tough to get ADA itself passed right now. Uh, but certainly amendments to it would be difficult.Sara :
How can an organization like APH get involved in ADA related advocacy and support and is that even appropriate?Paul:
I think for an organization like the American Printing House, we obviously want to be careful. We are a Federal Funds recipient. Uh, so we do have to be careful in terms of anything we do formally around advocacy, but we have a duty and a responsibility I think, to provide information to people , um, that is useful and usable. Obviously we do a ton of that around education and services related to education, but I think we also can and do provide information about things that are happening , uh, related to legislation, things that might be happening with respect that , that involved the Americans with disabilities act and changes to that, how to be , uh, how to use the ADA to your benefit, if you want to seek employment or how to ensure that you're getting the transportation or other services that you're due under the ADA. I think all of those things are perfectly fine and good and important for an organization like APH, even as a federal funds recipient for us to do. Um, it gets a little more tricky when we're actually wanting , if we wanted to go and talk to Congress about specific changes to ADA. Um, but even there, I think as an organization that has substantial knowledge about the educational needs and the needs of , uh, people who are blind or visually impaired, we have something important to contribute to educating , uh, even members of Congress who might be looking at changes to laws. And I think it's, it's again, very permissible under the guise of, of actually providing education under that structure , uh, that we can be involved. But I think we, I think we definitely have a role to play in helping individuals to understand how to use these laws that have been passed to seize more opportunities.Sara :
Would you like to see more institutions get involved with advocacy? If so, can you tell us how?Paul:
I would love to see more? Yes. I think the simple answer is yes. I think, I think it's important for all of us to be providing as much information as we can to help individuals be , uh, to, to, to, to pursue the opportunities that are available to them. Um , and I think, and that includes to exercise the rights that are provided under the Americans with disabilities act or under the individuals with disabilities education act , uh , or any numerous others, the rehabilitation act. I think even if , uh, if you're an institution that provides services, if you're a rehab agency or a school district, even if you might find yourself challenged from time to time, I think the world is better when people with disabilities know what their opportunities are and know how to exercise those opportunities. Yes, it can be frustrating sometimes if you're on the receiving end of a lawsuit or a complaint, but for the most part, if people understand what their opportunities are and know how to act on those, they're probably not looking to Sue. They're looking to get something done. Very few of us really want to Sue it's it's a long and drawn out difficult process, rarely ever doesn't really result in a , in an action that we like. And if it does, it often takes years. And by that point, we've either lost interest or we've moved on. I mean, classic example is a recent Supreme court case that said a school district was wrong to kick a girl off the cheerleading team , uh, because of some swearing that she did on a mobile chat thing, she's already out of school. I mean, she's, she's graduated, she's gone, right. It has nothing to do with her life today. Um , she gets the wind and the school gets slapped around a little, but it didn't solve anything. You know, it creates a precedent. Okay. But, but I mean, for this individual, it didn't solve anything. And so most of us don't really want to go through that process. We'd like to get the , the opportunity that's in front of us today, the opportunity to have a book that we can read in an accessible format, that chance to be able to have a , uh, individualized education program that actually meets our needs the same for our rehabilitation program that actually allows us to pursue a job. We want to do that, right. I mean, so I think the more that people understand what their rights are under these laws and how to work most effectively with , um, the, the institution that may be they're seeking services from the better off we all are.Sara :
And can you touch briefly on a few other major issues that advocates are working on right now that might be of interest to our audience?Paul:
Absolutely. And there are some good issues that are taking place. So I'm going to , uh , probably hit three or four , uh, and I'll try to do it as quickly as I can. One of the biggest challenges that older blind people particularly , uh, have faced is that Medicare does not cover services that are tied to vision loss for the most part and technologies that are tied to vision loss for the most part. Um, Medicare won't cover magnification, for example, because it has a specific exemption to not cover eyeglasses and magnification while not really eyeglasses is swept into that. So it's , it's a quirk of the law, but it means a stunning amount of service and equipment is not provided to older people where if they had a different disability, they'd have no trouble getting wheelchairs, walkers , um, other kinds of apparatus and, and OT and other kinds of services to live independently. So that's one that people are working on the American Council of the Blind has been doing a lot of work in that area. Uh, I think the second one is trying to get more services for older blind VisionServe Alliance has been working hard on that the private agency group. Um, third one is I mentioned digital accessibility before, and there's been a bunch of work around that issue to try to ensure that mobile and web and other , uh , uh, uh, digital and technology is accessible, but there's still work to be done. And in fact, there are some who are seeking , um, what would potentially be an amendment to the ADA to make clear that it does cover web and to describe , uh, in , in some ways that's already clear, but to describe what that means, what does it, what does an accessible website, what standard does it have to meet to be considered accessible? Um, and then finally voting , uh, as much in the news today, lots of, lots of , uh, drama around voting and states and federal work on voting and people with disabilities . People who are blind are very concerned that our right to actually cast a private vote is very much in jeopardy. Um, it's always been a challenge because we typically have not had voting technologies that were accessible. Um, you know, you can go back to the day when you filled in a cell on a paper and then later punched a , uh, a ballot maybe with a machine or whether even with a little hand device, but those things weren't accessible for those of us who couldn't see. And then we passed a law in the early 2000s to create technology. And so we have machines with audio and large print and magnified vision. And so , um, voting was accessible if you happen to have a polling place with those capabilities. Uh, and now that much, that that's very much in jeopardy than a lot of struggle around what is it, what is it , what are the proper expectations for voting systems and voting technologies? And then there's issues like absentee voting, which a lot of people with disabilities and people who are blind have used over the years and now states are starting to, some are loosening and some are cracking down. I mean, it's a very strange world that we're in right now, depending on where you live. So voting is a huge, scary thing for those of us with disabilities, as we feel like in some places, our rights are going to be eroded.Sara :
All right , Paul, is there anything else you'd like to say about all of this advocacy?Paul:
Well, I should say I gave a tip of the hat to the American Council of the Blind, and I want to give a tip of the hat to the National Federation of the Blind , um, which, I mean, all of all of the groups have been working on the voting issue that I just mentioned digital. And I forgot to mention the , um , Access Technology Affordability Act that NFP has been , uh , pushing, which is a very interesting concept of using the tax , uh , tax base, using taxes as a way to help provide , uh , people with some of the expensive accessible technology that we need, the braille devices and things of that nature that can cost, you know , several thousand dollars. And the idea would be to use the tax code so that if you're eligible, if you're a blind person or a parent , uh , and you buy one of these pieces of technology, you can get a tax credit of up to $2,000 in a three-year period , uh, for that technology. And yet it's true, even if you don't pay taxes. And so a lot of things use the tax code to kind of help , uh, uh, support, important objectives. And I think this one's a good one. So I would say , uh , another one for people to take a look at is the access technology affordability act to see if you can get your member of Congress to support. They've got strong support, but both sides have Republican and Democrats out Senate and house. And , uh , I think that bill could go if it just finds , uh , finds a nice vehicle to ride through the system on it's it's , it's unusually bi-partisan actually, I'd also like to mention and give a call out to the Cogswell Macy act. That's the short name for it. It's named for two strong longtime leaders, Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macey . Most of our listeners would re recognize Anne Sullivan. Macey is Helen's teacher. Um , this bill would change the individuals with disabilities education act to update some provisions and add some provisions that would significantly improve , uh, education opportunities for students who are blind. So I also want to put that one out there. It's a American council of the blind AER, and , uh , I've been working long and hard on that bill and some other organizations as well , uh , particularly from the deafness community , uh, who have been advocating. So that's , that's one that I would also throw out there in the education area as worthy of folks taking a look out .Sara :
Thank you so much, Paul, for joining us on Change Makers.Paul:
You bet, thank you.Sara :
Now we're going to learn how to advocate for yourself or loved one. Now we're talking to APH is Director of Accessibility, Diversity and Inclusion Tai Tomasi about how to advocate for yourself or loved one. Hello, Tai, and welcome to Change Makers.Tai:
Hi, thanks so much for having me.Sara :
As the Director, Assessability Diversity and Inclusion advocating is pretty much your focus. Can you quickly tell us what it is that you do at APH?Tai:
At APH I advocate on behalf of employees to improve the accessibility of all areas of our company. And also I do the same kind of work for all of our stakeholders. That would be our customers, all of the individuals in the field with whom we work teachers of the visually impaired. Um, there's a list too numerous to mention, but in all respects, I'm advocating for increased accessibility for all of those individuals and , um , helping them to have access to everything that they need.Sara :
Can you tell us how a person can advocate for themselves or a loved one and what tips or resources would you suggest?Tai:
So it can be intimidating to advocate because you have to , um, you know, it does involve a little bit of conflict as far as giving, as far as letting people know what's going on and how they can resolve the issues that you're facing. Um, I do find that it can be a little bit more difficult to advocate for yourself than it can be to advocate for other people. So I just want everyone to know that feeling as normal because the stakes are high when it's, you that's involved and you're feeling a little bit of conflict. Um, I always feel though that doing that work, even though it's very difficult , um, is very necessary and it will improve your life. I've been advocating for myself from a very young age , um, in several different areas of my life. Um, one instance I can remember was when I wanted to be in a diving class and teacher said , um, I don't know how to teach a blind person. So I had to advocate with her about how to do that. Um, and in my first job, I had to advocate for myself , um, because of discrimination and, and people's myths about what it means to be blind or visually impaired as far as tips. I think there's a lot out there on the internet. Um , there are a lot of resources I'm going to be putting together some advocacy resources for folks. Um, there are many consumer organizations out there that also provide advocacy advice. And , um, when it gets beyond your own level of advocacy, you can certainly contact some of these disability organizations and the disability rights network of , um, legal advocacy firms all across the country,Sara :
Thinking big community wide impacts, what is the larger impact advocacy can have in the community?Tai:
So we think of advocacy sometimes as being something that's personal to us, but in reality , um , in addition to that, we're also helping the entire community. So when we advocate for something that seems limited to a use of one kind or another such as a , uh , wheelchair accessible ramp, for example , um, that ramp is actually benefiting the whole society. And that's the concept of universal access. Uh, when we implement accessibility improvements for perhaps , um, based on input from one segment of our population, we're actually helping everyone. And the same is true for all different kinds of accommodations that , um , have become commonplace because of the Americans with disabilities act and the individuals with disabilities and education act to name just a couple of the laws that have really , um, helped the disability community.Sara :
And is there anything else you'd like to mention about advocacy?Tai:
Uh, I would encourage anyone to contact me if you have questions about advocacy, or if there are trainings that I can provide , um, for the community I can be reached at ttomasi@aph .org . Another easy way to get in touch with me is through our accessibility email address, which is firstname.lastname@example.org. And I look forward to speaking with many of you and I'm so glad to be here and to be featured on the podcast.Sara :
Thank you so much, Tai for joining us today on Change Makers. Thank you. Just a reminder. Any links our websites mentioned in this podcast can be found in the show notes.Sara:
Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Changemakers . We hope you have enjoyed yourself. Be sure to look for ways you can be a change maker . [inaudible] .