Reflecting on the Impacts of the ADA
by Julie Reiskin
As the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrates its 20th anniversary, Julie Reiskin, Executive Director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition (CCDC), which also celebrates 20 years in existence, reflects on progress made. The CCDC is one of many Denver Foundation grantees which address the needs of people with disabilities. Others include the Anchor Center, PHAMALy, Craig Hospital, and the Chanda Plan. Julie Reiskin is also a member of The Denver Foundation’s Health Grantmaking Committee.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act Celebrates 20 Years
- Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition also Celebrates 20 Years
- Denver: National Model for Best Practices of ADA Compliance
- Poster Exhibit at the Biennial of the Americas
The Americans with Disabilities Act Celebrates 20 Years
The 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is of huge significance to the disability community − and the community at large. People with disabilities comprise between 9-15% of the population depending on whose numbers are used. However, as the baby boomers age and the veterans return home from foreign wars and the recession takes its toll we will see increasing numbers of people with disabilities. Disability does not just affect the individual, but their family, friends, neighbors, employers and colleagues.
The ADA was and is landmark civil rights legislation that gives people with disabilities the rights of full citizens. Most people think about ramps when they think about the ADA and the ADA has created tremendous physical access. However the ADA is about much more than ramps--the ADA requires state and local governments to make reasonable modifications of policy, practice, and procedure when necessary to provide services in the most integrated setting appropriate to the needs of the individual unless doing so creates a fundamental alteration of the program, service, or benefit. This is huge − this means that government must serve people individually and can no longer refuse to address unique needs by saying "sorry this is our rule." The ADA also requires public and private entities to provide effective communication − this means not only sign language interpreters and alternative format but can also mean things like sending an email instead of a letter, requiring patience, sending reminders, etc.
Before the ADA, it was unheard of for people with disabilities to take charge of our lives. We could not even get out let alone fully participate. Every outing was an ordeal and we could never simply live life. Twenty years ago people with disabilities were rarely included in committees and boards that make decisions about their lives − now it is commonplace and expected. When it does not happen the response is generally an apology. The ADA galvanized the disability rights movement and took the shame out of disability.
Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition also Celebrates 20 Years
When the ADA was passed people in Colorado wanted to make sure that the law became reality and that people with all kinds of disabilities could be included in implementation. That desire became a project of the Community Resource Center. That project became the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition (CCDC) which also turns 20 this year. CCDC has emerged from an idea to the largest disability organization in Colorado that is run by and for people with all kinds of disabilities (Cross-Disability) with a mission to promote social justice and create systems change that benefits people with all types of disabilities. CCDC has been responsible for improving the quality of life in Denver and around the state by making systemic improvements. They have removed architectural and attitudinal barriers, have improved access and quality of public benefits, especially in the Medicaid system. They empower many individuals through their robust volunteer program and assist many individuals who experience discrimination based on disability. Their annual awards ceremony where they honor individuals and organizations will be held at the Denver Public Library on July 14th from 2:30-4:30 p.m. The Denver Foundation was a recipient of the nonprofit inclusiveness award in 2008. Visit www.ccdconline.org for more information. <photos>
Denver: National Model for Best Practices of ADA Compliance
Denver is considered one of the more accessible cities in the country and is a great example of what can happen when there are organizations around to enforce the ADA. Like any law or policy, the ADA is only as good as the enforcement. Denver has the most accessible bus system in the country. Denver was the first city to have wheelchair lifts on busses and the first city to commit to 100% accessibility of our busses. This would have not happened had 19 brave souls from ADAPT literally laid down in front of busses stopping traffic in 1979. A few decades later CCDC sued RTD and the result was a massive consent decree settlement that included training and massive procedural upgrades and policy changes. The decree became the national model of best practice for ADA compliance. CCDC now has great relationships with both RTD and the unions that represent drivers and mechanics. We are all proud of the work we have done and of the RTD role.
Having an active disability community makes Denver a more marketable city−the 2008 Democratic Convention was the first national convention in history where people with disabilities did not uniformly come back declaring it a disaster. The Host Committee immediately agreed that access was a priority and hired an ADA coordinator who did a stellar job in assuring access at all levels − even the rental bike program included hand cycles.
Poster Exhibit at the Biennial of the Americas
Denver Foundation Director of Community Grants Terri Konrad was in Mexico City with her husband recently. They were walking around and noticed an amazing and powerful poster exhibit called the ABC's of Disability. There were posters depicting people with all kinds of disabilities living their lives − there was a word or phrase on each poster using almost every letter of the alphabet. Terri came back and shared this with me and they began dreaming of bringing this to Denver. Because of the 20th Anniversary, July was an ideal month. After some research we learned that the poster exhibit was created by a collaboration of nonprofits. We then learned about the Biennial of the Americas celebration being planned for July and approached them about including this as the disability component. They happily agreed. The Regis Institute for the Common Good also became involved and they are sponsoring a community discussion looking at next steps and engaging the broader community on disability. The exhibit will be at the Denver Public Library for the Month of July and is being co-sponsored by the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, the Denver Public Library, the Mexican Consulate, Regis University, The Denver Foundation, and The Biennial of the Americas.