September 21, 2023
It is the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, so let’s dig into what this monumental act means for the disability community. To begin, the ADA was enacted to help drive accessibility for the disability community in hopes of improving employment rates for people with disabilities. The ADA is the core document of the disability rights movement written with the hope of creating an equal opportunity, preventing discrimination, and protecting the needs of every individual with a disability. Ultimately, the essence of the ADA is supposed to bring accessibility and provide equal access and opportunity for the disability community. But is that the case?
Is the ADA a great foundation for a more accessible world? Yes… Can the ADA be improved to more effectively address the barriers that people with disabilities face? Oh, absolutely.
Although the ADA has given advocates the starting point to build off of and pursue a fully inclusive world for those with disabilities, it is certainly not the end of the disability community’s pursuit for equal opportunity, equity, and inclusion. Kyann Flint, Wandke Consulting’s Director of Accessibility explains that, “The ADA is just an act, therefore, it doesn’t necessarily change people’s mindset.” This monumental law still holds its significance today, but there is so much more that can be done to make the ADA more effective in fostering inclusion for the disability community.
In making the ADA more effective, the first thing we need to recognize is that accessibility is not “one-size-fits-all”. With that being said, no single document can encompass everybody’s access needs. Accessibility is more than a wheelchair ramp, accessibility entails having access to the internet, access to employment, and the ability to experience life like everyone else. Accessibility means being inclusive to people who are blind or low-vision, people who are hard of hearing or Deaf, people who have limited manual dexterity or limited mobility, or people with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Since the ADA does not currently address the necessary accommodations for all of these communities, there is a need to move beyond the ADA and begin focusing on Universal Design.
Although the ADA Exists, people get away with discrimination towards the disability community all the time. There are still services and locations that are completely inaccessible for people with disabilities. Kyann explains that, “Even though this act exists, there are still many locations that I still cannot access.” She goes on to share that she has also “been let go from a job that had nothing to do with seeing just for being legally blind.” This discrimination of not providing access or an equal opportunity is allowed because it is perceived as too expensive, Kyann also says. “However, this excuse should not be valid anymore. Property holders and business owners need to understand the importance of accessibility not only to the current disability community but to themselves and for everyone’s future.”
Kyann believes that collectively “we need to change our mindset of the ADA as a checklist, and work towards the mindset of accessibility is an investment as the ADA brings about the essence of accessibility, which will benefit everyone.” Ultimately, discrimination for people with disabilities has been overlooked by our society for far too long, and it is time to stop using expense as an excuse.
When it comes to ensuring access to people with disabilities, we must think outside the box while using the ADA as an accessibility foundation to build off of rather than the end-all-be-all. Society needs to move beyond the ADA and strive towards Universal Design so that everyone, no matter what age or ability, can utilize every design with minimal or no accommodations. Accessibility truly is an investment and can be super impactful and inclusive to people with disabilities now, but will also be sustainable into the future and provide access and inclusion to people who obtain disabilities down the road.
All in all, accessibility is good for everyone. There are so many things that have been created for the disability community that can be utilized by and benefit so many other people, no matter what their ability is. Take curb cuts and text messaging for example… Curb cuts were designed so wheelchair users can better navigate walk ways, but they are helpful to parents using strollers, and even folks using suitcases or shopping carts. Also with texting, originally designed to make communication easier for the Deaf community, now is adopted by almost everyone with a cellphone. These are prime examples of utilizing disability inclusion to drive innovation and accessibility for everyone.
Even though the ADA was enacted to help drive accessibility for the disability community, there is so much more that can be done to make the ADA more effective in fostering inclusion for those with disabilities. Overall, we need to shift our mindset as a society to recognize how important accessibility really is. Accessibility is the design of products, services, and environments to be usable by people with disabilities. Not only does accessibility allow the disability community to live life with less barriers, it also provides a more inclusive environment for everyone and allows communities to thrive together.
At Wandke Consulting, we empower organizations to build disability inclusion into the foundation of their practices. We provide our first-hand knowledge of disability to educate business and nonprofit leaders on accessibility. We serve as trusted advisors to help build a more inclusive environment. Wandke Consulting educates organizations on how to create more inclusive services for their clients and employees with disabilities.