As a lawyer, I remember the time before the ADA became law, when there was little required legally to accommodate those with disabilities.
The summer after I completed my first year of college, I dove into the surf and hit a sandbar leaving me paralyzed from the chest down.
About a year later, after undergoing hospitalization and rehabilitation, I returned to Texas Christian University to continue college. It was August of 1987.
It was a new frontier for me, trying to navigate campus from my wheelchair. At the same time, the school was very accommodating in what they could provide for me to get around.
Right around 1989, I was getting ready to apply to law school and signed up to take the LSAT.
When I got there that morning, there was no desk, there was no table. Just auditorium seating with attached desks. I had to take them that day because the timing of that test dictated when I was going to apply to law school, so there was no postponing it. So I improvised. Someone grabbed two regular desk chairs and a piece of plywood and made a desk. I mean, it was an interesting way to take the LSATs, the plywood was grainy and had chips in it and it made filling in circles a bit difficult.
Back then, there was no point in getting upset. There was no ADA.
But now, more than 30 years post my injury, and more than 25 years post signing of the ADA, if I see a business or a situation where the accessibility is not there or it’s a clear violation of the ADA or people just don’t care, I let people know about it.
The ADA is a landmark piece of legislation which granted civil rights to people with physical and non-physical disabilities, probably the largest minority group in the country. And four years after the ADA was signed into law, I moved back to Philadelphia and became the executive director of the Mayor’s Commission on People with Disabilities. Getting the city ADA-compliant was no easy task.
While the City has a come a long way, transportation, for example, was and still is a challenge. Back then, in 1994, I remember hearing horror stories of bus drivers just passing wheelchair users by. Today, most buses are equipped to handle wheelchairs but wheelchair accessible taxi cabs, for example, are hard to come by.
But, what remains ahead is the need to bridge the gap between employers and the needs of people with disabilities to find work. I think once we can improve in that area, we’ll have accomplished what the ADA was intended to accomplish – independence.
Guest author: Won Shin, Esq.
Editor’s Note: This blog was originally published on July 26, 2016 and has been edited for accuracy and clarity.