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ADA @ 30: Perspectives on the Past, Present, and Future

Members of the Benetech community share their gratitude, frustrations, and aspirations regarding the impact of the ADA

The Benetech community is comprised of many overlapping segments representing disability rights, accessibility experts, blindness organizations, students, Bookshare members, and allies. We asked some of them how the ADA has impacted their lives. Here are their perspectives.

Itto Outini on Acknowledging Her Rights as a Human Being  

I am a Fulbright alumna from Morocco. I am completely blind and currently an asylee in the United States. Four years ago, I didn’t know anything about ADA, nor were my rights as a human being valued in Morocco. I was not allowed to go to hotels, kicked out of restaurants, and in general denied public services. I did not have access to technology so I was unaware of laws protecting disabled communities in other countries. I was neglected, poor, homeless, and abused; however, I worked hard and was awarded the Fulbright scholarship to study journalism in America.

I first experienced the ADA during a flight that I almost missed, but due to my disability and ADA protections, the flight waited for me. I was rushed to the plane in a wheelchair, and in this moment, I felt valued and like a normal human who is acknowledged for the first time. I hope that countries like Morocco will acknowledge that the disabled communities deserve a life worth living. 

Itto Outini is a journalist in Fayetteville, AR.

David Szumowski on Equal Access to Education and the Need for Tighter Service Animal Regulations

The ADA was not available when I attended law school in 1970. I had been rejected by my alma mater’s law school after losing my sight in Vietnam. They were unenlightened and felt a blind person could not succeed in law. Another university viewed things differently and gave me the opportunity to succeed in the field as a prosecutor and then a judge. 

I’ve used a guide dog for 51 years and found some resistance to entry to establishments prior to the ADA. Since then, problems are minimal other than the fact that faux service dogs are now everywhere and their behavior is a problem for legitimate service dogs. The ADA needs to tighten the rules on legitimate service animal definitions and eliminate the fake service animal industry that is hurting those of us with true service companions. 

David Szumowski is a Vietnam veteran and retired superior court judge in San Diego, CA. Read his story.

Rabbi Lauren Tuchman on the ADA Protecting Her Rights 

The ADA has impacted my life in countless ways. I truly exist on the shoulders of giants and have had the immense pleasure of learning with some of the ADA’s key advocates. From my ability to get an education, to increasing environmental accessibility and transportation access, the ADA has shaped me in ways I cannot even quantify. Even when I lacked familiarity with the ADA’s content, I knew as a child and young adult that this legislation existed in the United States to protect and affirm my rights. 

Lauren Tuchman is a rabbi in the Washington, D.C. area. Read her story.

Tony Candela on Equal Opportunity for the Blind

For the past 43 years, I have worked as a rehabilitation counselor, supervisor, and manager, an employment specialist, and administrator. I witnessed passage of the Rehabilitation Act in 1973 while I was in college, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (now IDEA) in 1978, the ADA in 1990, and all the changes that have taken place to increase equality of opportunity for the blind. I have witnessed the burgeoning of technology from the pre-desktop computer days, through the development of OCR technology that inspired Jim Fruchterman to found Benetech and Bookshare. Today, the advocacy continues through our work and our vigilance, and things are definitely going in a positive direction.  

Tony Candela is a consultant for Benetech and the American Foundation for the Blind in New York. Read his books.

Tom Perez on Disability Transit and Increased Independence 

The ADA opened up doors for people with mobility issues and those who are blind or visually impaired since it offers paratransit services to get to the gym, store, movies, and so on. Government funding that is set aside for disability transit is very important because it takes the burden off family members and fosters independence.  

Tom Perez is a U.S. Army veteran and blind stoker who lives in San Diego. Read his story.

“People are basically the same, albeit with differing characteristics. Some are smarter than others. Some have different life experiences. Some have different languages and skin color. These are merely characteristics that make us human, diverse and interesting. We need to go through life noting our common characteristics as human beings and not minor differences.”

-David Szumowski

John Miller on Traveling Independently 

How has the ADA affected me? It’s actually hard to pinpoint direct effects, as the changes brought by this law have just improved my standard of living overall. But probably the most profound thing this act has made possible for me is booking independent travel. Because sites are required to provide at least basic accessibility and airlines and other forms of transit must make some assistance available, I can move around whether anyone wishes to accompany me or not.

John Miller is a writer who lives in Cary, North Carolina. Read his story.

Haben Girma on Making all Technology Accessible

Numerous tech companies operate as though they are exempt from the ADA, even though multiple courts have held that the ADA applies to digital places. I’m hopeful the next thirty years will bring a shift with disability access designed into all of our technology.

Haben Girma is a disability rights lawyer and the first deafblind person to graduate from Harvard Law School. Read her story.

Want to get involved? Join the 30 for 30 campaign.

This blog is the third in a series of blogs highlighting perspectives from the Benetech community on the ADA. Read the first two blogs: “Together We’ll Rise” and ADA @ 30: Two Voices on Accomplishments and Shortfalls.

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