Officials join residents to mark 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Officials join residents to mark 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act
July 30
00:00 2015

In above photo: Daniel Moody assists young Jamé Malik in trying out his basketball wheelchair. ( Photo by Todd Luck )

Hundreds came together to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act at Triad Park in Kernersville on Friday, July 24.

The ADA ensured the rights of disabled Americans, giving them accessibility and protecting them from discrimination.

More than 50 million Americans have a disability, making them the largest minority group in the country. Maybe that’s why Winston-Salem Assistant to the Mayor Linda Jackson-Barnes and Kernersville Mayor Dawn Morgan could so easily think of people that had been affected by the act, which they mentioned before reading their prospective proclamations for the event.

Jackson-Barnes recalled taking her late mother, who was in a wheelchair, to New York City to see the play “The Color Purple” in 2006.

She said without federal accessibility requirements, she wouldn’t have been able to spend that wonderful week in the Big Apple with her mother, who passed away the following year.

Morgan recalled Peggy Sue MacKenzie, a young woman in a wheelchair with muscular dystrophy, who she attended middle and high school with before the ADA passed.

MacKenzie had rubbed shoulders with politicians and celebrities at only 7 years old when she was the 1972 poster child of the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

But she still faced many barriers as a teen.

Whenever MacKenzie and Morgan went to see a movie, they had to wait for the theater manager to let them in through the fire exit.

There were only six steps between MacKenzie and her access to the high school auditorium where graduation was held.

Morgan said classmates had to carry MacKenzie up the steps so she wouldn’t miss the big day.

The event took place under two large picnic shelters with various groups that serve those with disabilities using tables to tout their services.

There was a also a presentation on the history of disability rights by Mark Steele, the executive director of The Adaptables, a local Center for Independent Living that advocates for all disabilities.

All presentations where translated into sign language and typed on a screen using CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) for the hearing impaired.

“The ADA just puts things on a level playing field,” said Steele. “It doesn’t put people with a disability at an advantage; it just asks for things to be accessible and level.”

Steele has been using a wheel chair since a 1981 spinal cord injury.

He said the passage of the ADA made buildings and transportation accessible for him.

“All aspects of my life I can say changed for the better because of the ADA,” he said.

While the ADA protects employees from being fired for a disability and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for an employee’s disability, it’s getting those with disabilities hired that remains the problem.

Seventy percent of those with a disability are not part of the workforce.

“There’s been a lot of advances in public accommodation and accessibility features with buses and interpreters and making the world accessible, but the employment piece still needs a lot of work,” Steele said.

Winston-Salem Industries for the Blind, the largest employer of blind or visually impaired people in the country, had various sporting equipment for the blind and visually impaired there, including a talking dart board.

IFB hosted a national dart tournament in 2013 and will do so again in 2016.

Among those challenging sighted people to try using the dart board blindfolded was Anastasia Powell.

She started losing her vision at 14 years old and was completely blind when she was 21.

She started at IFB in 2005 working on a sewing machine and is now adult program coordinator for IFB’s Brighter Path outreach program.

Powell said ADA benefits places like IFB by requiring federal agencies to purchase AbilityOne products made by people who are blind or have another significant disability.

Powell said obstacles remain for the blind locally.

She said there needs to be more sidewalks on streets and more beeping crosswalks that let the blind and visually impaired know when it’s safe to cross the street.

A Brighter Path is involved in many activities for the blind and visually impaired, including the Blind Idol singing contest and the After Dark fundraiser, where blind people like Powell are teamed with a local artist to create artwork that’ll be auctioned off.

“People think because we’re blind, we’re not capable of X, Y, Z,” she said. “Just know we’re very capable, especially when provided with the proper tools.”

David Litman, a hard of hearing services specialist from Greensboro, says the same thing about deaf people.

He lost his hearing at 26, so he can speak despite being completely deaf.

Even so, he says that people talk to him on the phone without ever realizing he can’t hear a word they’re saying because his phone connects him to live video feed of a sign language interpreter who translates the call for him.

It’s one of many gadgets that deaf people can use and the state’s Division of Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, which he works for, had several on display at its table.

They included a telephone that’ll show what’s being said as text and a device that’ll make lights blink if a door bell rings and shake the bed when an alarm clock goes off.

He said the ADA helped him go to college shortly after losing his hearing by letting him get a CART interpreter, which essentially close-captioned his classes, until he became comfortable enough with sign language to have a signing interpreter.

He said though it can be challenging to communicate sometimes when he’s out and about, advancing technology and the ADA have improved his life greatly.

He said thanks to the ADA, he can even go see a movie with closed captioning in a theater, using special glasses to see the text.

“I have said I became deaf at the best possible time,” he said.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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