A year ago, this month, I became the Director of the Rocky Mountain ADA Center. ‘ADA’ stands for Americans with Disabilities Act (not the American Dental Association or the Americans with Diabetes Association!). I run one of ten regional centers that provides information, training, and guidance on the implementation of the ADA. The ADA was signed into law in 1990 and was meant to provide equal access and inclusion for individuals with a disability.
It’s an extremely rewarding position with many nuances. I have learned a considerable amount over the past year. And every day, I bring my work home as I think about how I am raising my children to build inclusive environments for individuals with disabilities.
As a society, we often use negative words when referring to a person with a disability. Word like suffering, afflicted, bound to, living with, handicapped.
These words carry negative connotations that we would not associate with other physical and mental attributes of individuals. I mean, when’s the last time you thought “Golly, how does Mary handle all that suffering with her blonde hair?!” Our children are sponges and they pick up on all of words and phrases that we use. So, let’s stop using these negative words when describing individuals with disabilities.
Our kids are watching our actions, too. Every day, I hear stories of people who park in an accessible parking spot because they just need to “run into” the store. Or the person who is shamed for parking in an accessible spot (with the proper tags) because they don’t “look” like they have a disability. Or the person who “fakes” a service animal, so they can bring Fido into a restaurant. The list goes on and on. Our actions tell our children a story: my time is more important that anyone else’s… it’s okay to judge someone… I’m allowed to break the rules.
These actions are not okay.
Different-ability, not disability
We have a long way to go for equal access. In the US, our history includes many injustices for those with disabilities. In fact, as recently as 1974, local ordinances forbid those with “unsightly” or “disgusting” physical conditions from appearing in public. Are you kidding me?
And, while our country boasts measurable strides towards equal access, there is still SO much to do. For example, disabled Americans earn about 38% less than those without a disability. Imagine if your child had a disability (maybe your child does)… is this the future you’re hoping for them? A future where society and employers won’t look past a disability and see all the awesome skills your child possesses? Like problem-solving skills and ability to think outside the box. It’s time we start recognizing all the different skills that are out there and teaching our children to respect those with varying abilities.
Have you heard the saying by Verna Myers, “Diversity is being invited to the party; Inclusion is being asked to dance?” When’s the last time you engaged with a person with a disability? I mean, really engaged? When is the last time your child engaged with a person with a disability?
I recall vividly seeing a Facebook post on our elementary school page of a boy reading to a girl in his class with a disability. The mother of the girl had posted the picture, writing: “I want to share here just how much I adore our school. Most of you know my daughter, pictured here. The supportive community that surrounds her and us is something I am thankful for every single day. The kids in [her] class take turns reading with her and offering peer teaching. If you are this little boy’s mom—I’d love to know you. Thank you all who make our school such a safe and welcoming place for special needs students.”
Friends, this is inclusion.
As parents, we want what is best for our children. We send them out into the world, hopeful that they will make a positive impact on those around them. We dream big dreams for our kids and imagine a world of infinite possibilities. So, as we help shape their perceptions and biases of the world, let’s work together to bring an awareness and understanding of all people of varying abilities. In other words, let’s teach our children about diversity and inclusion. Let’s model the way and celebrate the differences in each and every person with whom we come into contact. And, let’s start now!
- The Rocky Mountain ADA provides training on various topics, including service animals and disability etiquette. Contact them to request training.
- The City of Colorado Springs offers the following services and accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Click here for more information.
- This resource guide was compiled at The Independence Center by and for people with disabilities. It outlines available resources to the Disability Community in the Colorado Springs area.
- Meeting the Challenge is an accessibility compliance consulting firm that serves individuals and organizations with rights and responsibilities for compliance with federal disability rights laws.
- Finally, here is a list of resources regarding the ADA from the Colorado Department of Human Services.
More COSMB Cares
Did you enjoy this article? Read more posts in our ongoing COSMB Cares series here.