Arkansans mark ADA anniversary
ARKANSAS–Events across Arkansas honored the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act as advocates celebrated how far the country has come, and shared where they believe disability rights should go next.
It was George H.W. Bush who signed the landmark legislation into law on July 26, 1990. The ADA is a far-reaching civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. The ADA grants access to people with disabilities in the areas of public building spaces, educational opportunities and other areas that were often previously unavailable.
“I think it’s had a huge impact on people’s lives,” said Cheryl Vines, executive director of the Arkansas Spinal Cord Commission. “But (the impact) is not as big as it needs to be.”
The ASCC is based in Little Rock and has offices in various parts of the state. Vines said she remembers what it was like for people with disabilities before the ADA and she also recalls when the law was signed.
“Twenty years is a point at which we thought everything might be done. We knew it would take longer than five to 10 years,” she said. “There’s not been as much change as we would like, but sometimes we forget how much has changed over the years.”
Vines praised the new accessibility found in all state buildings and for the availability of technology such as the relay program, which provides better telecommunication access for people with hearing impairments. When asked about what she hopes for the future, Vines said she would like to see the law “(put) more teeth into things like accessible parking where law enforcement would make it a priority to police parking, and that all (places where the public goes) would step up and make sure all their places are accessible.”
All four of the state’s centers for independent living sponsored an event Monday to honor the legislation’s anniversary. There are independent living centers based in Little Rock, Hot Springs, Pine Bluff and Fayetteville.
Jim Mather, executive director of Sources for Community Independent Living Services, agreed that honoring the 20th anniversary is important. Sources is sponsoring a week of activities including a concert, a “run, walk, roll” 5K, and a symposium on disability rights and access. For a complete event schedule, visit Source’s website.
“After 20 years, it’s important to see where you’ve been and where you’re going,” he said. “It’s important to recognize some of the barriers that have been removed in regards to people with disabilities.”
A major concern that still exists is barriers in unemployment, Mather said. While the state’s unemployment rate is somewhere just under 10 percent, “the unemployment rate among people with disabilities has been about 67 percent for 30 years.”
Job counseling and other employment-related services are one of many services available at independent living centers.
Mather said in general, he would like to see all citizens included in all activities.
“The perception that ‘people with disabilities can’t do anything’ needs to change to ‘what are the possibilities,'” he said. “It should be ‘what can you do, not what can’t you do.'”
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