Question of the Week

July 28, 2003


Disabilities are not necessarily disabling.

"The American Foundation for the Blind estimates that 10 million people in the United States are blind or visually impaired. From 1998 to 1999, there were about 55,200 children with legal blindness in the United States. Not everyone who is visually impaired is blind. 'Visual impairment is rated mild, moderate, and severe,' explains Sharon Lehman, MD, an ophthalmologist (pronounced: opf-thal-mah-loe-jist, a medical doctor whospecializes in examining, diagnosing, and treating eyes and eye diseases) in Wilmington, Delaware. 'Many people who are legally blind can see light and shadow. In fact, if you have vision loss in only one eye, and the other eye is correctable to 20/20, you can drive a car.'"

When people are willing to work to overcome challenges (whatever they might be), and employers and businesses are willing to work with them, all parties involved are able to work together and excel in ways they would not have done alone.

"Even heard of Dionne Quan? Maybe not, but you may have heard her. The blind actress is the voice of Kimi, the cowboy-booted toddler on "Rugrats," the popular cartoon series. Quan, who beat out 147 actors for the part, was born with underdeveloped optic nerves. She reads her weekly scripts in Braille."

On Saturday (July 26), President Bush used his national radio address to speak about the Americans With Disability Act.

"THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. This weekend marks the 13th anniversary of the Americans With Disability Act, one of the great compassionate acts of American government. Since becoming law, the ADA has helped to improve the quality of life for more than 50,000 million Americans with physical and mental disabilities. As a result, it is easier today for people with disabilities to find a job, to enter public buildings, and to live more independently in their communities. These are all welcome changes in American life.... There is much more we can do to assure that Americans with disabilities are treated with dignity and respect...."

This act has helped some get the accommodations they need to feel safer and more independent as employees and business patrons.

"Lawyers for more than 1,000 current and former deaf employees at United Parcel Service yesterday announced the settlement of a discrimination lawsuit in which the company agreed to pay $10 million and to take steps to accommodate deaf workers. In the settlement in San Francisco, U.P.S. pledged to provide deaf workers with effective communications, including interpreters, for interviews, orientation, training, safety meetings and disciplinary sessions."

While the ADA was a start, businesses have had to change, grow, and learn over the years.

"The plaintiffs' lawyers predicted that the settlement would encourage other companies to do more to accommodate deaf employees.... 'This settlement is precedent-setting,' said Caroline Jacobs, a lawyer with Disability Rights Advocates, a nonprofit law group.... At the trial, Babaranti Oloyede, a Bay area employee at U.P.S., testified that the company refused to provide him with an interpreter during a safety training session on watching for packages that might carry anthrax. He said that over 10 years the company never provided a qualified interpreter for any other training. Peggy Gardner, a U.P.S. spokeswoman, said, 'The measures called for in the settlement will make what we believe is one of the best working environments even better.'"

While many businesses have worked hard to improve facilities, tension--and lawsuits--have not yet disappeared.

"TWO YEARS after winning a big lawsuit over alleged handicapped-access violations at Mission Ranch, former Carmel Mayor Clint Eastwood is about to be sued again over the same issues, according to a wheelchair-bound Florida man who says he has stayed at Mission Ranch three times.... Shotz claims that on his visits to the ranch, various accessibility problems prevented him from using most of its facilities. One of the biggest problems was the hillside path from the ranch's lower rooms to the restaurant, he said. 'It took two-and-a-half weeks for my shoulders to stop hurting, because the route is so steep,' Shotz maintained. The ADA requires that 'paths of travel' at all privately owned public facilities have a slope of no more than 8.33 percent, regardless of natural topography, Shotz added."

I recently had someone tell me that she was thankful for the ADA every time she tries to get around pushing her stroller: doors that open (and stay open) at the touch of a button, wheelchair access ramps, bathrooms with stalls large enough for her to bring in the baby in the stroller while she helps her older child.

Some businesses who have tried to accommodate have run into legal, financial, and political (where historic or other such buildings are involved) trouble. Some accommodations made by businesses have served more groups and members of the community than they had initially intended. Some community members, business, and employees have worked together so that the benefits are spread to many members of the community with varying levels of ability.

Questions of the Week:
What unintended community benefits have resulted from the implementation of ADA policies? What unforeseen problems have surfaced? How has the ADA affected your community (positively or negatively)? How can students work together with community leaders to help create an environment that benefits all members of the community?

* While some students may not remember life before the ADA, thirteen years later, not all facilities at all businesses are accessible to all people for various reasons. For more information about what the ADA is all about,
you can visit the "U.S. Department of Justice Americans with Disabilities Act" website at:

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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