Access: Disability Rights Activists in Action


July 26th of 2010 will be the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Americans With Disability Act in 1990. The ADA is the civil rights lawthat provides persons with disabilities equal protections under the law in employment, governmental programs and public accommodations. I’m grateful everyday for the ADA because it’s thanks to this law and to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act(IDEA) that my 13-year-old autistic son, Charlie, is entitled to be educated, to receive a ‘free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment.’ Prior to these laws, we would have been on our own to educate Charlie. It’s not just that he would have limited access to schools and to an education, but that he wouldn’t have had any access to these at all.

‘Access’ refers to a means of approaching, entering, making use of.  It makes a world of difference for Charlie to have access to schools and an education. For persons with disabilities, it too often happens that access is denied, and in a very literal sense. 

Think of a walk you take down the street every day, or a building (grocery store, office building, doctor’s office, library) that you go into every day. 

Is there a ramp? A door designed so that persons with disabilities can readily open it, but also so that they can get through the door comfortably (perhaps they use a wheelchair)? Are restrooms accessible for persons with disabilities and are these located in a part of the building that is easy for them to get to?  

(At a facility where I used to take my son swimming, the restrooms for persons with disabilities were up on the third floor. There was an elevator. But there was also a whole set of restrooms on the first floor that weren’t accessible.) 

It’s not uncommon for some to see these accommodations as puzzling and even annoying. Cambridge University professor Mary Beard recently blogged about her frustrations with a new door that had been ‘fitted with Health and Safety approved disabled operation.’ Due to the placement of a button to open the door and, too, to the mechanism that makes the actual door open, Professor Beard has found it’s much harder for people to go in and out of the building, especially at busy times. She does not, though, seem fully to note how, prior to having this (admittedly) cumbersome door, persons with disabilities had limited access to the building. Writes Professor Beard:

‘This is disabled access legislation gone mad (or perhaps done on the cheap). I cant actually imagine that wheelchair users (not in truth that I have ever seen one taking advantage of these access arrangements) can be happy with this. I don’t think that they want rage, and bottle necks, and difficulties that those on their feet but weak — all for the sake of a system that does not even reliably work.’

It would be helpful to hear from someone with a disability about her or his experience getting access to the building, both prior to the installation of the new door and after it was installed. Persons with disabilities are, unfortunately, a bit too used to having to cope with a ‘system that does not even reliably work.’

Recently in Chicago, the disability advocacy organization ADAPT held an action to protest the lack of accessibility at a major traffic artery, Roosevelt Road and the Dan Ryan Expressway. A small group of activists blocked an entrance ramp and demanded to speak to an alderman to get the curb cut ramps and sidewalk fixed. The next day, workers were at the site making repairs, as you can see in this video.

Access is a universal problem. Via my friend Emma is a report about being disabled in Greece: Anna, who uses a wheelchair, must often go into the streets in Athens traffic, as shown in this video. Curb cut ramps are few and far between and the sidewalks are where people park motorcycles, and cars.’s blog has been counting down the days to the ADA’s 20th birthday with a series of posts that have been examining the history of the creation of the ADA and, too, ‘how supporting the rights of individuals with disabilities supports ALL Americans.’ I know the ADA is an American law, but I’d like to say that its provisions should be applied everywhere, because supporting the rights of individuals with disabilities supports EVERYone.


Photo by NationalADAPT.


Serena P.
Serena P8 years ago

My mother works for a government contractor and they have so many disabled people working for them. The problem is that they keep taking away handicapped spots, and some that they do have, they let the vendors park in and don't make them lmove. Also, some of the handicapped parking is in a parking lot SEPARATE from the building-there are two parking lots, and they have to cross the street to get to the other one. They are so messed up there, and their complaints go unheeded. Since they have the required amount of spaces, apparantly nothing can be done, which I think is total BS.

My mother can barely walk-she had two knee replacents and walks with a cane, and sometimes she has to use the farthest parking lot.

Jennifer Hughes
Jennifer Hughes8 years ago

@Bee Hive Lady: I'm very sorry that you think your experience is indicative of everyone's.

Philippa P.
Philippa P8 years ago

I have recently been relagated to a scooter because my mobility is finally so limited I can't get around without one. I have found that people are only to happy to assist me if I need it. Buildings could be more accessible - my doctor is in a building with no handicapped button for the door.

All in all, most people are very sensitive to my needs.

Lika S.
Lika P8 years ago

I work home care for our elderly and disabled. While some have been treated very well, I've seen others get gross mistreatment. I hope this issue gets resolved. Public places aren't always as accessible as they say they are.

Phil Smith
Phil Smith8 years ago

Thank God we have laws addressing this ,, And MANY MORE NEED to be enacted..

Having a disability is MORE than just sitting in a wheealchair.. There are people with pacemakers and breathing problems.. Limbs missing ,, Sight and hearing impaired.. Size problems and other medical conditions..

And NOT ONE of them conditions effects their hopes or dreams any more than mine...

Claudia Elliott
Claudia Elliott8 years ago

Great article, thanks for sharing.

Edward Janus
Edward Janus8 years ago

Edward Janus | Disability Advocate and Activist (Disabled myself).
Doing Daily Internet Activism for Supporting Causes of Change.
Taking Actions, Clicking for Sponsored Donations, Signing Letters, Petitions, Pledges, and many other Important Causes. Governmental, Political Issues and Government Accountability. Sharing Disability Connections, News and Resources.
Founder: | Disability Network Connections.
News Article:

Dear Kristina,
Thank you for posting and sharing.

Bee Hive Lady
Fiona Ogilvie8 years ago

I am disabled. I have never bullied or mistreated by any person, government office, agency, etc. I have always been treated with respect and courtesy. The other people posting here seem to me that they are looking for some reason to whine. Seriously, I have been disabled for 1967 and have never encountered scenarios such as they describe.

Laurel W.
Laurel W8 years ago

Kenneth B, I was so sad to read your story. But the sickening (pun not intended; this is a serious subject) truth, is that often, we come across people who think that because we are disabled, they can bully us, and we are too weak to stop them. From the selfish and abusive motorists I mentioned in my post, to government departments who cut funding for disabled services, from children who throw stones at us, knowing that we can't stop them, to complete strangers who accuse us of faking illness, to sponge off the state. From government beaurocracy, which makes us fight tooth and nail for every penny, every concession - as if battling incurable illness wasn't enough - to situations in which we are treated in a dismissive manner, and devalued as human beings, it all comes down to the same sort of thing. We are poor, we are disabled, so we don't count.

If 'civilization can be measured by how it treats its weakest members', though at some official levels, some progress has been made (such as the provision of carers by Social Services), still, the Human Race has a long way to go, before it can call itself truly civilized.

Eileen C.
Eileen C8 years ago

Yes, on July 26, 2010 will be the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disability Act in 1990. The ADA is the civil rights law that provides persons with disabilities equal protections under the law in employment, governmental programs and public accommodations but this law is not enforce at the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and we have more than 26% of the population as People with Disabilities. I am not grateful because children do not benefit everyday of the ADA because the federal agents are not doing their job an there are not benefiting of the the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act(IDEA). The same way we have adults we have many children with conditions that should enable them to benefit but thanks to the corruption, they are not. 'Access' do not exist at the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The simple action of taking a bus is just challenge by negative attitudes that bully consumers constantly. I had to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation but still the bullied attitudes exist on the island and my friends have to confront it constantly.