Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Victory in Civil Rights―with More Finish Lines Ahead

Contributed by Carol Wright

This morning, an older adult who uses a walker boarded a bus by the lift to get to her volunteer position one town over.  A woman who is blind used an accessible pedestrian signal to hear when it was okay to cross the street, and then she completed her grocery shopping. Colleagues entered a subway car to get to a meeting across town, and their manager who uses a wheelchair easily led them onto the train without a second thought.

Many aspects of accessibility, such as elevators at subway station or signals at intersections, are normalcies today that could easily be taken for granted. Most of us would not think twice about having students, with and without learning disabilities, attend the same school or of riding the bus with someone who uses a wheelchair. Inclusion and the ability to pursue an independent life are tenets of American society with which our children have grown up. These values were not a part of our nation’s fabric, however, until the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed 23 years ago this month.

On July 26, 1990, when President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law, he changed the future not only for millions of Americans with disabilities and their families but also for the companies that needed to hire qualified employees, the universities that were looking for competitive students, and the communities that needed advocates to reach out to marginalized residents. As transportation became more accessible under the ADA, people with disabilities were able to live independently within communities, attain employment and support their families as well as vacation, attend entertainment venues and support the economy as consumers. Buses with ramps and lifts, paratransit vans, and curb ramps have made inclusion more of a reality, but we have further to go.

This year, for the first time, I am celebrating the anniversary of the ADA as the senior director of accessible transportation at Easter Seals. Having worked in transit, human services transportation, and aging and disability services, I am excited to meld my diverse experiences and help communities continue to make their transportation services more accessible. I have been to many communities across the country, including those in tribal and rural regions, and have seen first-hand how accessible transportation can transform an area. Our nation has made much progress in 23 years, and I look forward to keeping that momentum going through leading Easter Seals Project ACTION.

The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration, our funder, has remained committed to accessibility and inclusion in our nation’s transportation systems. ESPA thanks former U.S. DOT Secretary Ray LaHood for his years of service and welcomes Secretary Anthony Foxx. In a tight economy, much work still needs to be done.  ESPA will continue to work with our partners and groups across the country to support fully inclusive communities where all people—regardless of ability—can pursue an independent life.

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