Sunday marked the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, a piece of landmark legislation that cemented equality for people with disabilities as a right, prohibiting discrimination based on disability and requiring employers and public places to make accommodations for those with disabilities. In Chinatown along Mott Street, disability rights organizations, health centers, arts groups, and public officials gathered in a public fair to celebrate the anniversary and promote access and equality.
“There was a time when you would wait for the bus and the bus driver wouldn’t stop for you,” said Samson Delgado, 28, from Wheeling Forward, an organization that helps those with disabilities connect to fitness programs, education, and adjust to life outside nursing homes.
Delgado himself uses a powered chair.
“There were places that weren’t accessible and you were forced to not be able to get in, or to go in the back door,” he said. He said that since the passing of ADA, there is still lots of progress to be made in making all places accessible.
For Monica Vartley, 60, a wheelchair user from Bushwick, more progress for disabled Americans would come in the form of equal employment opportunities.
“It would mean that there’s a more diverse labor force and employment rates for people with disabilities would go up,” Vartley said, “We would see more people with disabilities be independent, able to afford housing and not to rely so much on social benefits.”
In fact, independence was a big emphasis of the anniversary celebration, with some calling it Independence Day for those with Disabilities. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer spoke about the need to increase accessibility in New York.
“We have to keep working until every subway station is accessible,” said Brewer. She also added that every apartment building and taxi should be made accessible.
Bob Schickler, from Brunswick Mobility Professionals, sells aids for those with disabilities like vans with ramps for wheelchairs. He sees many obstacles in creating independence and mobility for the disabled, mainly in the cost of these mobility aids.
“We have a lot of products out there,” said Schickler, “Unfortunately most people can’t afford them.”
Schickler added that his company is able to donate many used products, but that there should be more social programs to help the disabled.
With these serious obstacles in mind for disabled Americans, celebrating the anniversary of ADA was an important occasion — especially because many able-bodied people haven’t heard of the legislation.
“This is probably the first time I’ve heard of it,” said Nancy Cao, 16, a high schooler from Stuyvesant High School. Cao and her friend Michelle Chan came to the event to volunteer for their school’s Key Club.
But volunteering at the event was teaching Cao and Chan about the importance of equal rights.
“We should respect everyone no matter who they are and no matter what disability they have,” said Chan.