We sometimes take for granted things — important things — that others battled to make part of the mainstream.
That might be the case for the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is being celebrated this year on its 30th anniversary.
Access to programs and facilities became much more readily available because of this legislation and we thank the SAIL Disability Network of U.P. for putting together a 12-day online educational celebration to remind us all how vital this access is to people with disabilities.
In a story by Staff Writer Jackie Jahfetson published Wednesday, it was noted SAIL Disability Network of the U.P. strives to work with people with disabilities, Executive Director Sarah Peurakoski said, by promoting self-advocacy and helping them gain access to programs and facilities.
Usually every five years, the organization hosts a public picnic but this year with the COVID-19 situation, Peurakoski said it was more appropriate to host this year’s celebration online by offering virtual activities.
The 12-day online celebration is actually a little more informative because people can be linked directly to the history of the ADA and what’s to come for the future.
Centers for independent living (CIL) were the pivotal point to creating change for people with disabilities, Peurakoski said.
“… Because of the Rehab Act of ’73, (CILs) were part of that movement that said people with disabilities should be in the community. We believe they should have access to programs,” Peurakoski said in the story. “They need to have access into your building and in order to do that, the centers were built so that people with disabilities could talk to other people with disabilities and have that connection of ‘How did you get through that? How did you overcome that barrier?’ So that pure network was built way back in the ’70s right around the same movement was happening with the Civil Rights Movement.”
When the ADA began to be enforced in 1990, it was a huge step because the federal law provided people with disabilities more access to programs and services, Peurakoski said.
The act also eliminated employer discrimination against employees with disabilities. In 2010, new regulations for outdoor recreation changed accessibility for people with disabilities, incorporating a much larger community.
Peurakoski said people with disabilities are still “very large contributors to society” and they need to have access to education, transportation and employment.
As the 30th anniversary of the ADA is being celebrated, Peurakoski said the road to equality and understanding still has a long way to go.
“In the last 30 years, there’s been great strides. But in the same sense, there’s still a lot more movement I think that could happen continuing with the employment side. People with disabilities are one of least employed populations — minority populations — because people are afraid of hiring a person with a disability as an employee because they’re too afraid they don’t have the right adaptations,” Peurakoski said. “The other side is making sure that people with disabilities are advocates (and) that it’s okay to talk about what their needs are. It’s okay to request those needs of your employer. It’s okay to expose that in a way (even though) it can be fearful as well because they’re afraid they’re going to be fired. But in reality, that’s against the law to fire them because of their disabilities.
“… Hopefully employers will understand or want to help that employee with a disability as much as possible but that’s still not quite there yet. So advocacy is another large portion that still needs to expand (over) the next 30 years in my opinion.”
For more information on the 30th celebration of the ADA or SAIL, visit upsail.org or call 800-379-SAIL.