I was four years old when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. As a four year old, I was blissfully ignorant of the struggles of disabled Americans. At that age, I was more concerned about seeing my friends at preschool, the latest episode of “Sesame Street", and when I could sneak off and look at my mom’s cookbooks. Growing up though, I have become more and more aware of how significant this piece of legislation really is.
Although I am only realizing it now, the ADA has played a vital role in my life starting from an incredibly young age. At the age of 5, my family discovered I had learning disabilities. I not only had an Individualized Education Program (IEP) but also wore a PE 1000 headset through kindergarten. The special yet reasonable accommodation enabled me to focus better so that I could learn like my peers. Eight years later, at the age of 13, I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare, genetic disorder that involves a breakdown and loss of cells in the retina . Thanks to the ADA, I have been given tools that allowed me to live a vital life. In high school, I was granted a disability advocate who worked with my teachers so that I could receive a quality education. While in college and post-graduate studies, my professors constantly gave me multiple accommodations which included but were not limited to utilizing Kindle editions of textbooks and turning in papers in a larger font size.
In more recent times, this legislation allowed me to obtain even more tools to live my best life while having a disability. The gift of a white cane and learning to travel independently opened my world. My confidence grew even more with the arrival of Leader Dog Mileigh into my life. Because of the ADA, I can freely go through the world with a pair of furry eyes by my side. Thanks to this law, I have web accessibility tools on my computer that enable me to perform my job to the best of my ability. Through my example, my daughters are growing up learning that disability, and specifically blindness, is not something that defines a human being.
While it is quite evident that I have benefited greatly from the ADA, this law is not a magic wand that enables me to live happily ever after. It did not wave away the painful bullying that I endured as a teenager. It did not zap the unspoken opinions of choir directors who only saw my disability and did not look past it to truly see my talents. It didn’t (and still doesn’t) affect public opinion of a service dog, nor does it make the public realize that a service dog is absolutely nothing like the average pet. Although ADA provides protections to aid disabled job seekers, it didn’t help me find a job any quicker than I did. It doesn’t magically find the sometimes hidden elevators to the Metro. And even though section four of the ADA addresses telecommunications, it doesn’t automatically make every website accessible to those with a disability.
The Americans with Disabilities Act may not be a perfect piece of legislation. I realize however, that a flawed law is better than no law at all. If the ADA did not exist, then it is possible that there would be no need for WCAG guidelines. If this law did not exist, there is no way that I would be able to have such an active lifestyle despite my disability, and I would not be the person that I am today.
Happy 30th Anniversary, ADA! Thank you for enabling me and millions of Americans to live life to the fullest.
Written by Molly Kiko