Did the ADA hurt people with disabilities or help?


I have to preface this blog with an important fact.  The ADA was enacted on my birthday, so I feel a kind of kinship with it.  A strange one, I’m sure, but it makes me feel as if I’m intertwined with it in some way that might be important at some point.

I share complaints of people over-reading the ADA.  I mean Braille on drive-thru menus, really?  Who’s bright idea was that?  People don’t use any common sense in these things, do they?  I see all the time that places have complied with the ADA, but didn’t think it out.  Perfect example…we went to MCL (commonly referred to as the Medicare Lounge) and the bathroom had a handicapped stall.  This is funny…it wasn’t wide enough for a wheelchair, as the poor lady in the wheelchair that I helped out of her chair and into the stall found out.  Then there was the fact that the door was located down a 5 foot corridor with a very short and sharp 90 degree angle .  Impossible at best to navigate a wheelchair down and through.  You had to hit it at exactly the right angle. So, what good did it do to have that when it was so poorly carried out?

Think about those wonderful blue buttons that everyone abuses because they are too lazy to open a door.  Do people realise that those things only have so many pushes in them?  Nope, they just continue to be lazy.  Now, that I live and work in the disabilities community, I understand this and I know what a huge freaking deal it is when that one little convenience doesn’t work appropriately.

The article quotes that 60% of people with disabilities are currently unemployed.  It  attributes this to the employers not wanting to open themselves up to lawsuits and having to accommodate people with disabilities.  Believe me, after having been pretty intensively involved with employment of people with disabilities in the last few years, I understand the reluctance of employers to work with this very special population.  Most employers will tell you that their experience has been very good, however.  These people, myself included, appreciate the chance to work and take it very seriously.  There is a lot to be said for giving positively to your community.  However, in recent times with the economy the way that it is, I think that employers forget the positive outcomes that they get from working with people with disabilities.  It stops being about impact and becomes about money.   They forget that having people perform tasks with attention and focus far outweighs how many jobs that they can do with half ass focus and little attention to detail.  The big picture impact is that these people are fulfilled with their jobs and not only do they have the opportunity to do something that feels worthwhile and gives them satisfaction, but it also performs a more clandestine task.  It allows “normal” people to see that people with disabilities are worthwhile and functional members of a community.  We have made great strides in society as a whole with this task.  It has not so suddenly become okay for people not considered normal to be part of their communities.  I have a coworker who has a brother that is my age with Downs.  His parents were told to institutionalize him.  He participates with a baseball team in the summer and works in my employer’s sheltered workshop.  Less than 20 years ago people with Autism Spectrum Disorders were still being institutionalized.  They certainly weren’t being accepted and asked to give public speeches.

I like how Andy Imparato talked about the self-esteem of kids with disabilities.  This is largely in part to no longer being looked at as a drain on society.  I like to think that it’s also due in part to people like me, who tell them that it’s okay to be different.  The biggest thing that high school students with higher functioning forms of autism face is the depression from being and thinking so differently from their peers.  It’s no fun to look around and feel isolated and as if you don’t fit in, and worse yet, to feel as if nothing that you do will help you to fit in.  In fact, they often feel as if being “normal” is the goal, rather than being happy.

I’m going to briefly follow in Penelope Trunk’s footsteps and say that there is huge amounts of emphasis placed on being happy as per specific priorities.  We get so caught up in what “their” (I have no qualifier for who falls into the they category, but we all know who they are) idea of happiness is for us and forget that it’s not the things that make us happy but rather the thing, being ourselves.  I will share with you a lesson that it took me 41 years to learn.  If I am not happy with myself, it makes no difference how many others are happy with me.  I will still be miserable.  When I am happy with me, my miserable factor lowers significantly.

The other thing that Andy Imparato said that impressed me is that the ADA helped kids to set their expectations high.  This goes hand in hand with having pride in ourselves.  I can’t have that pride if I constantly feel as if I am not being challenged in the expectations that I have for myself.  High expectations helps me to challenge myself and be somewhat consistently successful.

He also talks about the definition of disability, at least according to social security.  Am I without disability because I have the ability to participate in substantial gainful activity most of the time?  No, but there are times when I am, by virtue of my disability, significantly disabled.  Should I only qualify part of the time?  I agree that I should never be forced to say that I cannot ever work and be successful.  I prefer to note that I have a significant barrier to being employed, but with help, I have become successful.  I feel as if my current job has really helped me to feel successful in a job.  Of course, it’s because they are patient with me and have helped me identify ways to work better with others as well as learning to work with me.  Developing this plan to make me a more successful employee, they have helped me to create a successful employee.   Kind of defies imagination, huh?

In summary, it all comes down to committment.  I have to be committed as an employee to be the best employee I can be.  The company that I work for also has to be committed to helping me to be the best employee I can be.  They have offered me challenges to expand my job duties.  Some, admittedly, have been more successful than others.  There have been times that my boss has had much more confidence in me than I have.  There have also been times when he’s had confidence in my abilities than my actual abilities.  There are rules for everyone to be successful in the workplace, it just takes a few more for people with disabilities and a lot more committment to those rules. 

The other part of this success is having  the appropriate tools to make me successful.  Having commitment on everyone’s side is a great help, but it takes technology to keep me on track.  My netbook, my computer, my BlackBerry all work to make me more affective.  Oh, and post it notes.  But that’s entirely different blog…..

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