Tag Archives: ADA

Defining Inclusion

2015 is the 25th anniversary of the signing of the ADA. We will be posting 25 posts over the next 12 months which will focus on the ADA- how it has changed society and what still needs to be done. Our goal is to cover for you, dear reader, as many different angles and issues as possible. Below is the third post in our #ADA25For25 series. The most recent post can be viewed here

Lisa FriedmanBy: Lisa Friedman

When I conduct professional workshops and trainings for Jewish leaders seeking to become more inclusive, I typically begin by asking them to share their definition of inclusion. (There are fun & catchy ways to do this, and most recently I have been using the prompt define inclusion in three words or less.) The reason for this set-induction is two-fold: first, it focuses participants on the task at hand and second, it helps participants to recognize, up front, that there is no universal definition of inclusion.

You may be wondering why that matters. No universal definition or standard of inclusion means that individual organizations and school districts must figure out for themselves what inclusion means and how it might best be accomplished in their setting. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services and to participate in State and local government programs and services. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education and related services to infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities. Both of these laws prohibit discrimination. Both laws describe appropriate accommodations. But neither actually defines or explains what it means to be inclusive. As a result, there is tremendous variation from state to state and district to district.

It gets even more complicated for us in the Jewish world. As private, religious institutions we are not bound by the ADA or IDEA. There are no legal mandates requiring us to make accommodations for and/or offer inclusive opportunities for people with disabilities and their families. Advocates of an inclusive Jewish world know that the inclusion of Jews of all abilities is the right, moral and just thing to do. We know that we must look past legal mandates and turn, instead, to our own Jewish teachings and sensibilities to guide us to do what is right. But without laws or specific mandates, Jewish leaders find themselves without the proper support and guidance to make inclusion a reality.

How do we start? What do we do? Must we focus on our structures or on our people? How can we seek to bring more people into our community if we can’t accommodate their needs once they are there? Why is it that some people feel inclusion means everyone all together all the time while others prefer a balance of separate and inclusive opportunities? How do we choose what is right and what is really inclusive?

Inclusion in 3 words or less

I find myself helping to guide people to an understanding of inclusion by focusing first on what inclusion is NOT. Jewish leaders can begin to make strides toward a more inclusive culture when they avoid common pitfalls and assumptions:

  • Inclusion is NOT saying that you welcome everyone – plastering it on websites and brochures – and then having meetings, programs or events where the same core group attends and sticks together while others are left outside that “inner circle.”
  • Inclusion is NOT an event or a program where you invite people with disabilities to share their experiences. (That can be a really meaningful experience for everyone, by the way – it’s just not inclusion in and of itself.)
  • Inclusion is NOT a favor you do for someone.
  • Inclusion is NOT a social action project or something your social action committee is “in charge of handling.” Inclusion, when it is part of the culture of a community, offers everyone an opportunity to participate in a wide variety of meaningful experiences.
  • Inclusion is NOT a place or a person – it’s not a classroom, a quiet room, the inclusion teacher, the inclusion specialist. Inclusion is who we are and what we do. It can’t be an after-thought or a last minute accommodation when someone with a disability “shows up.”
  • Inclusion is NOT accidentally sending the message to be thankful that you are “whole.” This is the “I’m so lucky I don’t have (fill-in-the-blank)” message. This conveys a message of pity rather than a celebration of the gifts each person has to offer.

In the end, the message is clear: inclusion matters, legal mandates or not. It is incumbent upon each organization to develop an understanding of inclusion and work toward creating a vibrant community that includes and supports everyone.



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The ADA- Unfulfilled Promises

2015 is the 25th anniversary of the signing of the ADA. We will be posting 25 posts over the next 12 months which will focus on the ADA- how it has changed society and what still needs to be done. Our goal is to cover for you, dear reader, as many different angles and issues as possible. Below is the third post in our #ADA25For25 series. The most recent post can be viewed here

By: Barbara Burton

Before passing the ADA, Congress examined the state of people with disabilities in America. They found people with disabilities experienced discrimination in areas such as employment, housing, education, transportation, communication, recreation, institutionalization, health services, voting and access to public services. People with disabilities were frequently isolated and segregated from the rest of society and were routinely excluded from many aspects of life due to a lack of accessibility. Further, they found people with disabilities who have experienced discrimination, unlike people who experienced discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, religion or age, often had no legal recourse for that discrimination and were unable to win compensation.

Congress decided the nation’s goals regarding individuals with disabilities are to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency. Then it decided the purposes of the Americans with Disabilities Act are (among others): to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities; to provide clear, strong, consistent, enforceable standards addressing discrimination against people with disabilities; and to ensure that the federal government plays a central role in enforcing the standards established in behalf of people with disabilities.

To the people who had worked hard to secure the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (the closest thing to a precursor of ADA there was) including participating in long-term takeovers of HEW buildings in San Francisco and other cities, the first version of the ADA introduced to Congress in 1988 was exciting and promised an end to lives of segregation and ongoing discrimination. While the final version of the ADA signed by President Bush in July 1990 came with changes and compromises, across America people with disabilities cheered their victory.

Now here we are 25 years after that historic day. How do we decide if the ADA is all it was supposed to be? I suggest making it personal. 25 years later are people with disabilities doing better than prior to 1990? Are we doing as well as Congress promised?

More people with disabilities are employed now than were in 1990, but overall people with disabilities are underemployed and have an employment rate much lower than people who have no disclosed disabilities.

Wheelchair users traveling by air recount horror stories about damaged or lost wheelchairs and injuries caused by contract employees who do not know how to transfer the traveler safely from the aisle chair to a seat on the plane. Guide dog and service dog teams report a routine inability to hail a taxi in cities across America because drivers do not want the dogs in their cabs.

Reports released in 2014 confirm that healthcare is unavailable to many people with disabilities. Physicians refuse to hire ASL interpreters for patients who are deaf, instead insisting the patient’s children interpret for them. Wheelchair users are often turned away when trying to make an appointment because the office is not accessible.

Voters who are blind or vision impaired find they are unable to vote at the polls because of poorly trained poll workers or non-functioning accessible voting machines. Voters who use wheelchairs frequently discover their polling place is inaccessible.

mid sidewalk poleCity infrastructure is often poorly maintained and designed, making travel around town difficult for people with a variety of disabilities. In some towns utility poles are installed in the middle of the sidewalk leaving no room for a wheelchair. In my city, our new Town Square comes with very high curbs. In one area there is no curb cut allowing someone to cross the street to reach the curb cut on the other side.

It is not unusual for people with severe disabilities to wait for years on a list hoping to be assigned care providers and home services. Until that time many are sent to nursing homes or other institutions. Imagine being a 16 year-old with quadriplegia and living among people in their 70s and 80s. This is true segregation.

This is where we are 25 years later. Yes, we have seen gains, but they have come very slowly. We have bounced back and forth as court decisions whittle away those gains and then return them piecemeal.

Why are we still fighting 25 years later? Where are the legal solutions promised in 1990? The business community, which should be embracing ADA as a relatively inexpensive way to achieve a larger customer base, has fought the changes imposed on it. They balk at installing accessible bathrooms and ramped entrances claiming the cost will put them out of business. With over 20% of the population experiencing some kind of disability, it seems the cost of installing an accessible entrance will be defrayed by the increase in business. We are an aging population and more and more of us require accessibility features.

We cannot legislate respect. After 25 years of the ADA what will it take to change the way Americans think about people with disabilities? Without respect there is no interest in or commitment to change.

Barbara C. Burton, M.Ed., owns Capitol Inclusion, an accessibility and inclusion consulting company. Follow her blog and engage Barbara on Twitter.

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The ADA Enters The Digital Space

2015 is the 25th anniversary of the signing of the ADA. We will be posting 25 posts over the next 12 months which will focus on the ADA- how it has changed society and what still needs to be done. Our goal is to cover for you, dear reader, as many different angles and issues as possible. Below is the second post in our #ADA25For25 series. The first post can be viewed here

Dana Marlowe

(credit: Rebecca Drobis Photography)

By: Dana Marlowe

The Internet allows us all to relive our glory days. If you celebrate Wayback Wednesday, Throwback Thursday or Flashback Friday (with their associated Twitter hashtags, of course), some of the images, videos and memories might time travel you back to 1990.

If that’s a year that’s near and dear to you, perhaps you would fondly remember waiting for an episode of a new cartoon called “The Simpsons,” or maybe you were anticipating the first images to come from the Hubble Telescope. Probably more than you care to admit you were synchronizing hand motions to Madonna’s “Vogue” or jamming to MC Hammer.

But do you remember where you were when President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? That was the equivalent of disability advocacy going quadruple platinum. And it’s still rocking our charts twenty five years later. So strike a pose, because ‘U Can’t Touch This’ blog from taking a ride on a nostalgia rocket.

Writing this from the perspective of an accessible technology company, my favorite flashbacks come not only in music, but in tech products and devices. It’s always entertaining to see the differences between then and now. People ‘back then’ were saving on floppy disks as opposed to the cloud now. They were gaming on MS DOS, not touchscreens on tablets. The World Wide Web was just proposed–HTML then was not as fully developed as it is now. People with disabilities were using human readers to access print content in the 80s and 90s, and now PDFs scan text to access screen reading software. They were calling with TTYs and now text messaging and voice relay is ubiquitous. Look how far we’ve come, both in business and personal advances!

The ADA covers public accommodations, or entities, both public and private, that are used by the public. Used primarily more in the physical sense of physical buildings and services, language from the 90s never fathomed how prevalent and pervasive the Internet would be, nor the supporting technology. All of those places the ADA mentions have websites, yet are those sites covered?

Bill Gates has said that “The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow”, and he’s truly right. The Internet builds upon itself in unfathomable speed and innovation. But if all the architects don’t have a voice, can they get inside a structure that could be laden with barriers? Ironically, also in 1990, Tim Berners-Lee, the father of HTML, published a more formal proposal for the World Wide Web and the first web page is written. You don’t have to believe in coincidences, but websites are as old as the ADA, and the two grew up simultaneously.

I believe that technology is a great unifier. It levels the playing field. Accessibility is the nexus where technology innovation and disability advocacy meet. It’s an incredible union.

Dana Marlowe presenting at the “Comics & Medicine Conference” at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine about the intersection of graphics medicine, technology, and accessibility. (credit: Sharon Rosenblatt)

Dana Marlowe presenting at the “Comics & Medicine Conference” at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine about the intersection of graphics medicine, technology, and accessibility. (credit: Sharon Rosenblatt)

When the ADA was revised in 2010, more attention was placed on accessible design with inclusion of new technologies. Many notices of proposed rulemakings included the Internet as a focus. Yet, as of publication date of this blog, there is no specific published law or section that defines how the ADA is applied to the Internet. Moreover, it doesn’t consider how a person with a disability would access content, especially with their assistive technologies like screen reading software, magnifiers, Braille displays, and more.

The lack of coverage in the ADA hasn’t stopped the fight for access by people with disabilities. In fact, many organizations have been sued for the inaccessibility of their websites under the ADA arguing that the web is a public space. Netflix was sued by the National Association of the Deaf for failure to provide captioning for some streaming content. Companies like the one I work for, Accessibility Partners, help prevent lawsuits proactively by ensuring that accessible solutions are released pre-development and with the input of users with disabilities.

But that Netflix case was almost three years ago. Today, there is a lot of momentum behind making the Internet an inclusionary public space. The Internet is only scratching the surface of what it means to have access to a public space. How do we get to the Internet? The answer is through our devices and hardware technology. Items like smart phones, tablets, kiosks, computers, and more that have broadband capabilities. These devices must factor in accessible design with feedback by users with disabilities. We’ve found that using testers and engineers with varied disabilities not only levels the playing field for technology, but also helps employ those with disabilities. It’s truly a success in multiple categories.

The ADA realizes the necessity of accessible technology for access to the Internet. While on the radar, it is slow moving. For another flashback, in June 2014, they proposed a rule that will address technical standards and obligations of state and local government agencies and public accommodations to make websites accessible.

Mark your calendars! The next regulatory process is scheduled for March 2015. There are already laws that cover government web content, and we are very optimistic that the ADA will be expanded to cover more public spaces. Wishing a very happy twenty-fifth year to this groundbreaking law, but with the caveat to continue helping those with disabilities as you mature.

Dana Marlowe is the Principal Partner of Accessibility Partners, L.L.C., an IT consulting firm. Dana works to remove barriers in technology, and to make opportunities available for people with disabilities. Dana partners with Federal Agencies, international organizations, and Fortune 500 businesses to help them create accessibility roadmaps and audit products to make them more usable for everyone. Like Accessibility Partners on Facebook and engage Dana on Twitter to learn more.

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Doing The Right Thing

2015 is the 25th anniversary of the signing of the ADA. We will be posting 25 posts over the next 12 months which will focus on the ADA- how it has changed society and what still needs to be done. Our goal is to cover for you, dear reader, as many different angles and issues as possible. Below is the first post in our #ADA25For25 series.

Jo Ann SimonsBy: Jo Ann Simons

The ADA is turning 25. Big deal? I think so.

I took my new grandson for a walk yesterday and I remembered a time without curb cuts and a broken elevator meant I couldn’t access the mall with his carriage. I have become used to seeing our elected officials with sign language interpreter’s close by. I do a silent mini dance in my head each time I see a person with a disability working. I notice ramps.

Those ramps, on our older buildings, are an afterthought and a testament to a time when people with disabilities were not a thought, not even an afterthought.

So it was with great excitement, last month, that I visited an inclusion program at the South Boston Boys and Girls Club. If you are not from Boston, you are not aware that South Boston is a densely populated, economically challenged and proud neighborhood. It was a crowded street and I noticed that there was a big construction project going on.

I had been instructed to use a side entrance and once inside I learned that I had entered through the handicapped entrance, a more recent addition to the original building. I am guessing the building was built in the 1950’s- almost a half century before we would learn that steps kept some people from buildings. I also learned that the construction project, which took up most of the small block, was being done to make the main entrance accessible.

Imagine that all the boys and girls would be able to use the same entrance. Nobody would be excluded or relegated to the side, “handicap accessible” entrance. While the Club was already in compliance with the ADA, they didn’t stop there. They were spending hard earned fundraising dollars to make the Club welcome to all.

Signing the ADA into law

President Bush signs the ADA into law in 1990 (courtesy: http://bit.ly/1pDHQiW)

Good news for the kids but the ADA always excluded religious organizations and places of worship. I can only imagine that this exclusion was permitted so the bill would pass. There must have been powerful lobbyists hard at work. There may have been concerns about the financial requirements that would fall on religious organizations. Clearly, the voices of people wanting to enter and worship were not loud enough and the bill passed with religious groups off the hook.

So as we celebrate the ADA turning 25, wouldn’t it be nice if religious groups collectively said the time has come for us to be included in the ADA!

Or religious groups could ask the good people at the South Boston Boys and Girls Club for advice on how to raise money to do the right thing.

Jo Ann Simons is a Disability Advisor to the Ruderman Family Foundation and President and CEO of the Cardinal Cushing Centers.

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Is Ratifying The U.N. Convention On The Rights Of People With Disabilities Necessary For The U.S.?

Susan ParishBy: Susan L. Parish, PhD, MSW

US Secretary of State John Kerry, in a brief statement at the United Nations last fall, argued that the US has one of the strongest disability rights laws in the world, and he was right. So then, why should the United States also enact a treaty, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN CRPD)? The answer is actually simple. As good as it is, our ADA doesn’t go nearly far enough.

The United States enacted sweeping civil rights protections for people with disabilities in 1990, when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law. The ADA provides the United States with one of the strongest frameworks to assure the civil rights of people with disabilities. It prohibits the all-important discrimination in employment, requires employers to provide disability accommodations for employees who need it, and it requires any establishment that serves the public to be accessible to people with disabilities. It was watershed legislation when it was signed into law, and it remains a model for the world. In 2008, in a direct smack-down to the Supreme Court’s series of decisions weakening the ADA’s protections, Congress passed the ADA Amendments Act and further solidified strong federal support for people with disabilities.

So why doesn’t the ADA go far enough? I have been pouring through mounds of data about this topic recently and my excursion into the data confirms what we in the disability community know: the ADA is not sufficient. Even 24 years after its passage, thousands of US students with disabilities still spend most of their day in segregated classrooms, out of sight and mind of their nondisabled peers. Employment rates for men and women with disabilities remain woefully low. A paltry 21 percent of working-age adults with disabilities are employed full time. And due to inadequate education and low employment, poverty rates are exceptionally high: more than one-fourth of adults with disabilities who live outside of institutions live in families that the US government deems poor. People with disabilities and their families are the poorest group in the US, and they often live with hardship and deprivation, including food insecurity, housing instability, and unmet medical needs.

Signing the ADA into law

President Bush signs the ADA into law in 1990 (courtesy: http://bit.ly/1pDHQiW)

How could the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities help? Why must we encourage the US Senate to pass the UNCRPD? Ratification would provide a clear framework to fully protect the values we share about respect, dignity and independence for children and adults with disabilities. Ratification would strengthen the civil rights protections that are already available to people with disabilities in the US. It would send the clear, unequivocal message that as a nation, we are fully committed to ensuring that people with disabilities live full and rich lives as citizens in their communities, participating in everything society offers. The ADA has not made full inclusion a reality for many Americans with disabilities. The baton should be passed to the UN Convention, which was built on the framework of the ADA, but goes further. The Convention will require the federal government to assertively promote disability rights, a step that is vitally important today.

The US is overdue in stepping up and offering leadership in the area of disability inclusion. Total ratifications to date: 145 nations. Israel, nearly all developed countries, and most of the developing world has already taken the step of ratification. Last December, when the US Senate considered the matter, the vote was five short for ratification.

US Senator Tom Harkin, a distinguished champion of inclusion for people with disabilities, has stated that he plans to work this summer to secure passage of the CRPD. I can’t imagine a better way to spend the summer months than fighting for the rights of people with disabilities.

Susan L. Parish, PhD, MSW is the Nancy Lurie Marks Professor of Disability Policy, Director of the Lurie Institute for Disability Policy, and Associate Dean for Research at the Heller School, Brandeis University. Her research aims to improve the health and well-being of children and adults with disabilities and their caregiving families. Follow the Lurie Institute on Facebook and engage Susan directly on Twitter.

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An Interview With Michael Stein

I had the pleasure of interviewing Harvard Professor Michael Stein about a wide range of issues affecting people with disabilities. Professor Stein is an internationally recognized expert on disability rights, who participated in the drafting of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and actively consults with international governments on their disability laws and policies.

Below is part one of the interview. Part two will appear on the blog very soon.
– Ephraim Gopin

Michael Stein1) How well is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) being implemented?

The ADA has been a mixed bag. It’s been extraordinarily successful in creating access to public places and public accommodation, but it’s been extraordinarily unsuccessful in affecting employment.

According to many studies, the ADA has had a major effect as far as making the public areas a place where people with and without disabilities can come and go at their leisure and more accessible for people with disabilities. It has improved the quality of people’s lives immeasurably.

As far as employment, we’ve seen a consistent decrease in employment and holding since well before the ADA. It was hoped that the ADA would improve the employment situation but it has not. (Michael has studied disability employment in the US for over 25 years and around the world. A book on this topic will be coming out next month.)

2) What’s the most jarring finding you have found from your studies?

Almost 80% of working age adults with disabilities are unemployed. When the overall unemployment rate reached 9%, it was considered a matter of great public attention and almost a national crisis. But yet the national disability unemployment rate has never been lower than 66% and over the last few years it has held steady at nearly at 80%. The fact that it doesn’t raise the same sort of red flags and calls to action is concerning.

3) Is the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) really a game changer? If yes, how so?

I view the CRPD as a remarkable tool that can be used to leverage change. It ultimately depends on local civil societies and how they use the tools. We see it as a lever on a national level for the creation of progressive and inclusive laws, policies and programming.

michael stein II

Picture courtesy of: http://b.globe.com/1gDj4y6

On an international level we see it being very effective in how the UN approaches disabilities. We’re seeing donor organizations now changing their guidelines to be inclusive- not as special projects but included in all the projects they’re doing bilaterally. On the individual national level- it really depends on the social and legal culture, what the alternatives are and how active the civil society is, which shows how conducive government is to change. In some places, I’ve been told by ministers that they will not change their policies. In other places, it’s been a wake-up call, it’s been an educational device and policy makers have begun to think how to approach differently almost invariably their largest minority group.

Is it a game- changer? At the end of the day, it depends how active civil society is and how well they pair with non-disability sectors to find areas of common interest and team up with them on projects.

4) The state of technology for people with disabilities- passing grade? Are apps made with people with disabilities in mind? If not, that’s a huge population to not serve.

Globally, new technology has in some areas embraced inclusion. The technology is certainly there to make all these apps accessible. The technology is cheap and incredibly easy to implement. But by and large, the needs and rights of people with disability are not taken into account.

It’s frustrating- I hear the anger and exclusion from many friends and different groups. Especially because this is a new world created by supposedly young, savvy, cosmopolitan people who have no excuse for excluding people with disabilities. To embed barriers into new structures seems to me to be a lost opportunity as well as a harmful and avoidable phenomenon.

Big businesses are by & large aware of it and some are more savvy than others. Microsoft has been rather good on accessibility. Amazon, on the other hand, has been obnoxious on the issue. For example, Amazon has been approached time and again about the Kindle but refuses to make it accessible.

5) Employment discrimination: Do you believe that people with disabilities face barriers to finding a job?

Empirical evidence from all over the globe suggests there’s a real disconnect policy-wise when we think about people with disabilities and the workplace. In terms of Western notions, people are viewed either as work capable or disabled; if they’re disabled, then they’re not meant to be working.  We don’t think enough about people’s different abilities, how to cultivate those abilities, getting them integrated into the workplace, why work is valuable especially when it comes to interacting with other people.

Michael Stein holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School and a Ph.D. from Cambridge University and is the Co-founder and Executive Director of the Harvard Law School Project on Disability. An internationally acclaimed expert on disability law and policy, Stein participated in the drafting of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, works with disabled persons organizations around the world, actively consults with international governments on their disability laws and policies, and advises a number of United Nations bodies.

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