This Facts for Features provides a demographic snapshot of the U.S. population with a disability and examines various services available to them. The statistics come from various U.S. Census Bureau censuses and surveys, covering different periods of time.
On Wednesday, April 27 White House will provide American Sign Language interpretation for Joe Biden’s address to Congress. According to ABC News this is the first time in history the White House has done so.
This past July, we celebrated the Americans with Disabilities Act’s thirtieth year of existence. Nearly 40 million people in America have a disability of some kind (one in eight people, approximately) and this important Act has changed the lives of Americans with various forms of disability, both visible and invisible.
PHOENIX – April Reed remembers what it used to be like before the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed.
Reed remembers her father, who wears hearing aids, telling her how he was turned away from a job interview. She remembers a colleague hoping every day that the bus would be wheelchair-accessible when it came by, so she could go about her day. She remembers another colleague with a master’s degree but an obvious physical disability that cost him his job.
The ADA, signed 30 years ago Sunday, changed all that.
From first-person stories of living with a disability to a virtual forum on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected their lives, public media is spotlighting the experiences of people with disabilities during July as the Americans with Disabilities Act turns 30.
The Florida Senate just unanimously passed a House bill that ensures people with disabilities can receive organ transplants without fear of discrimination.
Jacksonville Republican Rep. Jason Fischer proposed the bill, claiming that transplant facilitators don’t realize that protections against discrimination covered by The Americans with Disabilities Act also applies to them.
WHEN SHANE BURCAW flies on an airplane, he brings along a customized gel cushion, a car seat, and about 10 pieces of memory foam. The whole arsenal costs around $1,000, but for Burcaw it’s a necessity.
The 27-year-old author and speaker — who, alongside his fiancée, Hannah Aylward, is one half of the YouTube duo Squirmy and Grubs — has spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic disorder that affects motor neurons and causes muscle wasting and weakness. The disorder contorted his limbs and he has used a wheelchair for mobility since he was 2 years old. Today, he uses a motorized wheelchair custom-fitted to his diminutive, 65-lb. frame, but to board an airplane, he’s required to give it up. Instead, Aylward must carry Burcaw onto the plane, and from there, transfer him into a child’s car seat, which provides limited support and does not fit his body (thus, the foam).
“When you hear about the injuries and the discomfort and the embarrassment that wheelchair users have faced when flying,” Burcaw said, “it becomes pretty obvious that they’re not being treated in a very humane way with these rules.”
Indeed, regulations prohibit passengers from sitting in their own wheelchairs on planes, and, as a result, 29 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which dramatically increased American wheelchair users’ access to buses, trains, and other essential 21st century infrastructure, airplanes remain stubbornly inaccessible. For many wheelchair users, the experience of flying is stressful, painful, and sometimes humiliating. For some, it is simply impossible.
Emily Ladau, a disability rights activist, writer, and public speaker, does deep-breathing exercises to manage her anxiety as airport staff take her wheelchair away. She likens the experience to watching someone walk off with her legs. Things aren’t much better onboard. “Airplane seats are designed for the quote-unquote average person,” Ladau said. “I’m nowhere near the quote-unquote average person.” At 4’6”, she does not fit the seat easily. Her legs dangle. She cannot align her posture. “It’s very uncomfortable,” she said.
“You’re basically giving disabled people yet another reason to feel like society wants us shut into our homes and doesn’t want us going anywhere.”
When I’m giving disability issues talks, I’m often asked “Because of the ADA and other laws, are things getting better?” My answer is some version of “yes and no”. Here’s this week’s version:
Unsafe situation on nearby corner of busy street
The mile long reconstruction of an arterial road near my house just finished. Drivers are breathing a sigh of relief about not having to drive a couple extra miles to get around the construction. I walked part of the reconstructed sidewalks with a friend who used to teach blind kids and she pointed out that on one corner the truncated domes (bumps) were mis-applied. They’ll launch blind people kiddy-cornered from the northwest corner of the intersection to the southeast corner. I immediately notified a staff member in the city’s engineering department and she replied that she’d turned it over to the project manager and would get back to me with an update when available. Being concerned that soon the snow will fly and it won’t be able to be fixed until next spring or summer, I notified the city manager. He has not gotten back to me yet.
When you reach the age I have, you start checking the obituaries as regularly as you have that first morning cup of coffee. Recently the local paper switched their provider of obituaries and they’re no longer accessible to my screen reader. When I contacted the local paper’s representative, they gave me the email of the help desk of the new provider. I emailed them and offered to work with them to fix the problem. No word back yet. My work around is to ask a sighted friend who reads the paper to let me know if anyone she knows is listed in the obits. Not the same, but better than nothing.
Inaccessible library app:
The public library is touting an app, Libby where one can download audio and e-books on your iPhone. I downloaded it and opened it to a “secret” message to Voiceover users (meaning it wasn’t printed on the screen for sighted people to see, but just audio) that the app wasn’t accessible to us and we should use Overdrive app instead. After several emails and phone calls to the public library, they raised the complaint with the library system who will raise it with the vendor. On the company’s website I read that they’re “working hard” to make Libby accessible, no timeline given. I put a comment on the CEO’s blog since I couldn’t find his email, but have no way of knowing if it was read since I haven’t heard back. There’s plenty of responsibility to be spread around on this one: e.g. why did the company knowingly market an inaccessible app? Why did the library system buy an inaccessible product?
Disability emoji’s launched in version 13.2 for iPhones and iPads:
For over a year, we’ve been hearing that some disability emoji were coming soon to iPhones and iPads. They have arrived, including persons with “cochlear implants” “probing canes”, “guide dog” and “service dog”. I’ve never heard a long cane, also called a white cane, called a “probing cane”. Others in the disability community point out that many disabilities including cognitive disabilities don’t get an emoji. I also notice some of the other new emoji give the person a high status profession “nonbinary judge” or such, but we just get a disability. Am I happy? A little! (Insert emoji of slightly smiling face in your mind)
I was reading Kushner’s excellent Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned about Life. He has a theology of “not yet” that I really like. Are things all better on the accessibility front? Not yet, but that may happen someday if we all keep plugging away on it.
Katherine Schneider, Ph.D.
Senior Psychologist, Emerita
University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Author of Occupying Aging: Delights, Disabilities and Daily Life, To the Left of Inspiration: Adventures in Living with Disabilities and a children’s book Your Treasure Hunt: Disabilities and Finding Your Gold
Marca Bristo, one of the most influential advocates for people with disabilities in the U.S., died on Sunday morning after a long battle with cancer. She was 66.
After becoming paralyzed in a diving accident at 23, Bristo dedicated her life to disability rights advocacy and worked tirelessly to secure legal protections and improve quality of life measures for people with disabilities.
Among her many achievements, Bristo played a significant role in getting the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) passed. She also founded Access Living in Chicago, a nonprofit that promoted independent living, and in 1993 she was appointed by President Clinton to lead the National Council on Disability. She provided strategic leadership to the organization in that role until 2002.
Click here to read Marca Bristo’s full obituary in the New York Times.
Last Thursday, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) released a Final Statement of Enforcement Priorities Regarding Service Animals that clarifies rules governing service animals on flights for passengers, airlines, and other stakeholders involved in commercial air travel. The statement also specifies the department’s enforcement priorities, clarifies service animal species limitations, and lists the specific situations in which it is required for handlers to provide official documentation to the airline before boarding.