By EC Barrett
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the landmark civil rights legislation intended to protect against discrimination based on disability, turned 26 years old on July 26. To celebrate the anniversary, the Finger Lakes Independence Center (FLIC) offered a week of events including radio interviews, support group discussions, Stories in the Park with the Tompkins County Public Library (TCPL), and a flash mob on the commons.
The ADA was passed almost unanimously by Congress and signed into law on July 26, 1990 and, in 2008, the ADA Amendments Act added broader disability definitions, making it easier for individuals to establish that they have an ADA covered disability. The comprehensive legislation offered new protections for people with disabilities from discrimination in access to public services like state and local programs and transportation, employment, medical facilities, hotels, restaurants and other businesses serving the public.
Although the employment provisions of the law have generally received the most media and public attention, providing access to civic entities and civic life was a driving force behind the movement to pass the ADA. FLIC Executive Director Jan Lynch explained the historical context of the law’s passing. “There are 82 stone steps up to the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., a relatively minor bit of trivia for the majority of legislators, tourists, and visitors who traverse them every day. But for those unable to walk up those steps, they’re hallowed ground. In 1990, a group of activists and legislators were fighting to pass the ADA, a far-reaching piece of legislation that sought to guarantee equal rights for then roughly 40 million American citizens with disabilities, in part by changing the way architects designed buildings,” Lynch said. “Every ADA Anniversary is worthy of celebration since it was groundbreaking legislation for the rights of people with disabilities — celebrate and reflect on what still needs to change.”
As of the 2010 U.S. Census, one in five people living in the U.S., 56.7 million people in total, has one or more disability. While the ADA has made strides in civil rights for people living with disabilities, according to Lynch, “Stigma, education and implementation are all areas that need improvement in every community, including ours. The ADA supplies the power of the law to keep these changes going.”
Lynch sees the ADA as providing a framework for the services and goals of her organization. “FLIC’s mission is to empower all people with disabilities while creating an inclusive society through the elimination of social and architectural barriers,” Lynch said. “We accomplish this in a wide range of ways: personal and systems advocacy, independent living skill-building accessibility consultations, involvement in committees, boards and local government, support groups, information, community education, student transition and consumer-directed aides.”
Other FLIC services include advocacy for individuals and organizations to educate them about their rights and responsibilities; providing information and referrals for adaptive equipment, accessible housing, advocacy, sign language interpreters, and a variety of other disability issues; and peer counseling.
FLIC’s weeklong celebration began July 25 with the Invisible Disabilities Support Group discussion of how the ADA protects the rights of people with invisible disabilities. For their Tuesday Stories in the Park, TCPL and FLIC staff sang and signed songs in American Sign Language about mobility devices and transportation. In addition to Stories in the Park, Tompkins County Public Library joined the celebration with a “Disability Rights Are Civil Rights” display, available through the end of the month, featuring books, DVDs and first-person narratives and historical accounts of particular disabilities. A flash mob took place at 12:15 p.m. on Thursday, July 28 on The Commons, and FLIC ended the ADA celebration by welcoming community members to the center on Friday for light refreshments and to pledge to recommit to the ADA.
For community members interested in supporting the work of FLIC, Lynch said: “Visit FLIC, volunteer, join a group or come to a topic workshop or event, request information or assistance. Spread the word about the work we do and refer your family, friends and neighbors to use the services FLIC offers. Almost 20 percent of Americans have a disability, so almost everyone knows of, or is, someone who could benefit from FLIC.”
To get involved or find out more about their services, contact FLIC at 607-272-2433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By EC Barrett