It’s been 30 years since the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) became law in the US. Since then, some things have changed, but too many things remain the same.
I was five years old when the ADA passed. I remember my first thought was, “Does this mean I’m going to get to see what the post office looks like?” Now, how fucked up is that? To this day I have not seen the inside of the post office in the town I grew up in. When I moved from Louisiana to Texas in 2006, they still didn’t have an accessible entrance.
People constantly find ways around the law.
Older buildings are exempt.
Employers will say a disabled applicant isn’t “the right fit” instead of hiring them even though they are qualified. This is all it takes to get them around the anti-discrimination law.
Employers will declare accommodations as “unreasonable” just because they don’t want to do it. If COVID-19 has taught the disabled community anything, it’s that many of our requests were possible, they were just refused. It’s also taught us how many people view us as disposable, but I digress.
Some buildings have “temporary ramps” if you ask for them… but to ask them you have to get inside the building. When the owner of the building is asked they’ll say no one ever asks for the ramp. See the problem here?
Bathrooms are still too small to fit a wheelchair in most places. Or it doubles as a changing station so I have to deal with the faulty changing table falling on my head while I’m trying to transfer to pee. Because those things rarely stay upright the way they’re supposed to.
How do they get away with this? First of all, they know the laws and how to get around them. Secondly, most disabled people are poor and cannot sue. We are kept poor by the laws that are presented as helping us. The SSI laws are a good example of this.
Attitudes in academic settings are still that people with disabilities are not worthy. Often times our requests for accommodations are ignored or even mocked by professors, college staff, and even the disability services offices themselves. My first time in college I had a disability advocate argue with me over the placement of a ramp. She kept insisting it was there. I knew it wasn’t, so I brought her to the area where she said there was a ramp. It wasn’t there and she stormed off without even an apology.
Accessible apartments are rented to people who don’t need them. So when someone does need them, we can’t get them. It’s bad enough apartment complexes are only required to make 5% of their apartments accessible (20-25% of the population is estimated to have a disability), but when they only have 2-3 accessible units and they’re all taken by abled people. Where does that leave us? Homeless. That leaves us homeless or in housing that isn’t safe for us. Some of us, like me, can manage in a regular apartment. But some of us can’t and the point is, shouldn’t have to. This is why 40% of the homeless population is estimated to be people with disabilities.
My first apartment on the surface seemed to understand accessibility and want to help me, but when they put a cement curb ramp up for me and then someone stepped on it before it was dry and flattened it they refused to fix it. So for the eight years I lived there, I required assistance to leave my apartment because the ramp wasn’t safe. It was more like a small step than a ramp. That doesn’t even include the times they almost killed me by not taking my latex allergy seriously. They had a note from my doctor about it, which they ignored nine times out of ten. The service dog I had at the time is the only reason I survived that apartment experience. Her alerts got me out of there before my lungs shut down entirely.
Disability does not care what color your skin is, how much money you have, what your gender is, who you love etc. It can affect anyone at any time, and yet when other minorities fight for their rights the disabled people within those groups are forgotten. People chant “marriage equality” while disabled people cannot marry without losing their income. People protest police brutality, yet don’t mention 50% of people brutalized by police have some form of disability. Ramps, sign language interpreters, braille etc are often forgotten at events labeled inclusive.
For someone like me who fits into multiple minorities, that means often times I can’t go to events to support minorities that I also fall into. There are events happening all around the world right now to protest the injustices people are dealing with and I by no means want to minimize what is happening because it is horrible. I just wish I could be out there too. Because I want to be. I want to stand with everyone and say I’m here and add my voice too. But I can’t.
One of my favorite disability advocates, Imani Barbarin, recently said something along the lines of (forgive me, Imani, I don’t remember the exact quote) I’m black AND disabled, don’t make me choose just one. Those words resonated with me so much because for most of my life I’ve had to choose am I LGBTQ+ or am I disabled? Am I Latina or am I disabled? I’m both. I have been and will always be both. But most people view me as just disabled. The rest gets shoved aside because all they see is the wheelchair and the changes they’ll have to make to give me a seat at the table because their “inclusive” table doesn’t include me as anything other than an afterthought.
I’ve also recently seen disability advocates being pushed out of articles about the 30th anniversary of the ADA becoming law when their voices weren’t inspirational enough. If that doesn’t sum up the view on the ADA clearly I don’t know what does. Reporters want our opinions until our opinions don’t fit their narratives and then we’re seen as ungrateful when we say, “do better, this isn’t good enough.” Well, you know what? 30 years later, this isn’t good enough. DO BETTER. Am I grateful for the things that have changed? Absolutely, but I have zero doubt society could do better if they really wanted to. The problem is everyone thinks, “that’ll never happen to me” and they treat disability as something that only happens to other people. People they would rather pity, than help.
I see it every day on my social media when I share a story by a disabled advocate or one of my own disability stories, I lose followers or it gets largely ignored because they don’t want to acknowledge it. But if I post about another topic I advocate about like BLM or animal cruelty people jump on it. I may not say anything, but I see each and every one of you when you preach about being inclusive and ignore disability.
Maybe one day the disability community’s fight for our rights will take center stage. I hope, when that day comes, you will stand beside me the way that I’ve wanted so desperately to be beside you for all these years. Because when that day comes, I will do my damnest to make sure it is as inclusive for you as it’s never been for me.