Recently, Easterseals day program participant, Andrew, was honored at the annual NJACP 20th Annual Stars! Award Presentation. He was treated to dinner and dancing with his peers at The Stone Terrace in Hamilton, NJ. Most important though, his commitment to achieving his goals was recognized and celebrated. Take a look at what his day program manager had to say him: “Andrew, has attended an Easterseals New Jersey’s day program for over 8 years. He was born with an intellectual disability and faces challenges relating with his peers in social situations. However, these challenges have not kept him from developing meaningful friendships with his fellow program participants. And Andrew’s successes don’t stop there.
He successfully completed the 12-week Be Well! & Thrive and Exercise Program through Easterseals, the first accredited health and wellness program for persons with disabilities. Andrew also continues to participate in the exercise component Moving Matters., which makes sure he’s staying physically fit.
Deeply committed to his faith, Andrew enjoys listening to Christian music and videos and attends 3 different churches every Sunday. At home, he is an active participant in Special Olympics, consistently winning awards in their Swimming program every year. But that’s not his only interest, participating in Rally Cap Sports every week where he plays basketball, baseball, yoga, and “dancercise” classes. He also explores his artistic side by taking piano and drum lessons every week. In addition, he attends art classes at Monmouth Museum at Brookdale College.
If that wasn’t enough, Andrew is also active in volunteering within his community. He has volunteered with Interfaith Neighbors Meals on Wheels program through Keyport Senior Center 3 days a week. Andrew tells us that he feels his biggest accomplishment, “…is that I am a contributing member of my community.” He’s thankful for the Easterseals day program and all the support staff provides as he pursues and achieves his goal. We are incredibly proud of him and his accomplishments.”
If you were a person with a disability living in the U.S. before the 1990’s, you know our society was NOT built with you in mind. This was best reflected in very architecture of our streets and buildings, which were structured in such a way that, unless you were walking, were impossible to navigate. Ramp access was a luxury, braille was barely used, closed captioning was not a requirement, and something as simple as using a public restroom was often a daunting (and dangerous) task. Today, it’s evident that the times have changed for the better. Though things are far from perfect, it’s undeniable that our country is more accessible than it ever was in the past. Many of these changes can be directly attributed to the establishment of a key law known as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The ADA was signed into law by President H.W. Bush on July 26th, 1990. And as the anniversary approaches, we would like to explore why this was such an important moment in our nation’s history and how this historic piece of legislation changed the way our country treats disability.
What’s Actually in the Americans With Disabilities Act?
This law is designed to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. These areas are defined in the titles set forth in the act and are listed as follows:
Title I (Employment)
One of the rights of American citizens is the right to work. This title states that companies of a certain size must make reasonable accommodations to allow any qualified applicant with a disability to perform their essential job functions. This ensures all people have equal access to the same job opportunities.
Title II (State and Local Government) Government agencies should serve and be accessible to all Americans. Without access to these public institutions, people with disabilities would not be properly represented in this nation. That’s why this title states that all public transit and government officials should be fully accessible, whether that be through physical access or by providing communication assistance (for people with hearing, vision, and speech disabilities).
Title III (Public Accommodations)
If a private institution claims to be open to the public and is not accessible to people with disabilities, they will find themselves in violation of this statute. This includes places of business such as schools, gyms, retail stores, and doctor’s offices to name a few. It’s thanks to this title that we see ramp access to restaurants, braille under our elevator numbers, and closed captioning at our movie theaters.
Title IV (Telecommunications)
In our information age of telephones, computers, and the internet, communication has never been a more important part of daily life. This title requires that phone companies and internet providers offer alternate means for usage for people with visual, hearing, and speech-related disabilities.
Title V (Miscellaneous Provisions)
Though the above statutes cover most of our country’s accessibility issues, they can’t be expected to address everything. That’s why this title serves as the final umbrella that covers anything from regulated attorney fees to state’s immunity laws.
Looking Beyond the Law
We hope that after reading this post, you not only have a better understanding of the ADA’s historical significance but also recognize how important it is to our country’s future. Though this law and others have led us to become more accessible as a nation, we must continue to identify what work remains to be done. The United States is at its strongest when all its citizens are contributing to its continued success. One in four Americans has some type of disability, whether that be mental, sensory, developmental, physical, or intellectual as a person with a disability. This underscores the importance of the ADA as it protects the rights of approximately 25% of the US population. To limit such a considerable portion of our citizens from participating in public life would not only be a blot on the face of our democracy but would also weaken us both culturally and industrially.
We must remember, however, that at the end of the day, a law is only words on a page. Words don’t take anyone to work, they don’t help feed you, and they don’t put a roof over your head. That’s why Easterseals New Jersey is proud to support people with disabilities and their families as they live, learn, work, play, and act in their communities. It’s this continued legacy of service that picks up where the law leaves off, doing our part to make sure Americans of all abilities are able to live full and productive lives.
Take some time to imagine this story about mental illness. A person opens their eyes to the first sign of sunlight, there is a sense of quiet, a hint of calm. Then, suddenly, a voice that does not belong to them interrupts their morning haze, shouting that this person is “worthless and should go back to bed.” And so the person does, missing the chance to fulfill their daily plans.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one in four Americans currently live with a disability. This means it is likely that you, someone you know, or someone you will meet has a disability or will develop one later in life. Yet the public is still either uninformed or misinformed about the modern-day obstacles facing persons with disabilities.
With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other key pieces of legislation, many barriers to access have been removed from public life. However, we must now move to address the social stigma surrounding this community. This problem cannot be solved by simply building a ramp or installing braille. We must instead work together to change hearts and minds in order to build a more inclusive society for all.
This stigma has had real-world consequences for this population. According to a 2016 survey by Total Jobs, one in four persons who are deaf reported they left their job due to discrimination at their places of employment. In addition, the U.S. Department of Labor tells us that of those who were 16 or older, 19% of persons with disabilities were employed compared to 66% of those without a disability. These are not problems of “access,” they are problems of “perception” and perception can only be changed by increasing our capacity for understanding and empathy.
That’s why, to mark our 100th anniversary this spring, Easterseals New Jersey will be holding several pop-up events throughout the state we are calling “Exercises in Empathy.” At these events, people will be walked through short experience-based activities to learn more about disability. Activities include a limited mobility art station, a lip-reading exercise, a schizophrenia and depression experience, as well as a vision-loss/Usher syndrome activity.
Sharing in these experiences allows us to become more aware of not just the challenges having a disability can present, but how people overcome those challenges. This can be a powerful tool in removing the stigma surrounding disability. This shift in thinking is critical as we work together to build a more inclusive New Jersey.
We encourage you to experience our pop-up events. Visit www.easterseals100.org for more information and to learn how you can help create a future where everyone is 100% included and 100% empowered.
Brian Fitzgerald President/Chief Executive Officer Easterseals New Jersey
Disability in film isn’t a new topic, but recent films have taken on the subject matter both in positive and not-so-positive ways. We’ve had Bird Box, The Upside, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, and others. Television has also joined in with such shows as Speechless, Atypical, and The Good Doctor. We’re happy to see these projects come out and hope more will follow to help further expose people to the world of disability. Still, not all exposure is good exposure and we want to make sure we point out what’s working and what isn’t so we can all learn from these issues moving forward. For the purposes of this article, we’d like to focus on the two most recent films to be released, The Upside and Bird Box, to help us explore this topic of representation of persons with disabilities and special needs in our media.
In 1919, Edgar Allen founded a service organization that eventually became known as the National Society for Crippled Children which eventually became Easterseals. He discovered that people with disabilities were hidden from the public eye due to a lack of support in their communities. He wanted to change all that.
Comedian Norm Macdonald recently came under fire for his comments about the #MeToo movement and expressing sympathy for Roseanne Barr and Louis C.K. We won’t wade into those waters, but instead we’d like to focus on the apology he delivered on his September 12th appearance on the Howard Stern radio show. This is where he went on to say the following about the victims of sexual harassment, “You’d have to have Down syndrome” not to “feel sorry for them.”
It’s time to talk about medication. Not for a cold, not for an infection, but for managing the symptoms surrounding mental illness. Specifically, we’d like to address the stigma that surrounds just one of those three examples we just named. Taking medication for mental health should be treated no different than taking an aspirin for a headache. Something is causing us distress and we take medication to correct the issue. It’s as simple as that.
It is time to talk about disability and dental care. When you have a disability or special need, keeping up with daily dental care or finding a dentist that can cater to your needs can be quite a challenge. That’s why we sat down with Keith Libou, D.M.D. of Delta Dental of New Jersey. He answers all our questions about disability and dental care in a multi-part blog series. We hope these posts will serve as a useful resource for you or your loved one and give you something to smile about.
There are plenty of ways to get around (or get out of) New Jersey. We have NJ Transit providing trips throughout New Jersey and into New York. Septa can take you into Pennsylvania and can be picked up inside Trenton train station. Cars and buses whiz through the Parkway and the Turnpike (at least when there’s no traffic) and you can book your next Caribbean vacation at Newark Airport. But can you take advantage of all these travel options if you or a loved one has a disability or special need?