The ADA at 25: Pittsburgh-area disabled adults say act made difference in their lives
May 5, 2015 12:00 AM
Alex Brandon/Associated Press
Seven young Pittsburgh-area residents who are a part of the “ADA generation" participated in a panel discussion Monday night.
By Annie Ma / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
For the teenagers and 20-somethings born after its passage, the Americans with Disabilities Act has ensured access to the necessary accommodations for most of their lives. Still, young disability advocacy leaders stressed the need for further progress at a panel discussion Monday during the National Council on Disabilities’ quarterly meeting.
The panel presented the insight and experiences of seven young Pittsburgh-area residents who are a part of the “ADA generation,” those who grew up with rights afforded to them by the act.
Rachel Campion, who has significant hearing loss, said she would not have been able to pursue her educational path without the ADA. After starting at a school for the deaf, Ms. Campion transferred to Peters Township High School, where she graduated in 2014.
Because of the ADA, she said, she was able to receive the needed interpreters and captions that made it possible to attend a regular school.
Addressing questions from the audience about how organizations could reach out to young people, panelists emphasized the importance of including young voices in decision making.
Ms. Campion said youth outreach would work only if organizations understand how young people communicate.
“I’m always on my phone,” she said. “You have to be able to take advantage of that.”
Josie Badger, the statewide coordinator of the “I Want to Work Project,” said the passage of the ADA has created a shift in culture and identity within the disabled community.
Though the ADA has been “amazing,” Ms. Badger said, she often sees young disabled people who do not fully understand the legislation’s rich history and context.
“They don’t see the broader community that fought for these rights,” she said. “Sometimes they end up thinking they’re all alone.”
Ms. Badger said growing up in a rural area where ADA accommodations were slow to be implemented allowed her to see both sides of the struggle for rights.
“These young adults don’t have to fight the battle like I did, which was a big part of what shaped me,” she said. “We need to teach them how to advocate for themselves as they grow up.”
For young disabled people seeking to enter the workforce, the transition to adulthood poses a unique set of challenges.
Matt Berwick, independent living supervisor at the Three Rivers Center, said that despite barriers to employment, there is no shortage of young people who want to work.
“We’re ready to push for more than just entry-level jobs,” Mr. Berwick said. “We’re ready to move beyond those limits.”
Johnathan Duvall, a doctoral student in rehabilitation sciences at the University of Pittsburgh, said understanding the intersection among culture, technology and public policy is essential to effective advocacy for disabilities.
Social Security illustrates one of those gaps in understanding. Under the current system, Mr. Duvall said, Social Security can actually be a disincentive to employment and independent living. Surpassing a standard income level will make an individual ineligible for benefits that cover necessary care and assistance.
“It all works together,” Mr. Duvall said. “You need to understand the day-to-day challenges to write meaningful legislation, to design effective technology, and to hopefully remove the stigma around disability on a cultural level.”
Though hurdles remain for young disabled people, panelists agreed that the ADA has been essential for their pursuit of employment, education and independence just like their peers.
“It’s given us honor and a voice,” Ms. Campion said. “It’s the reason I’m where I am.”
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