The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law 25 years ago, putting in place comprehensive civil rights legislation intended to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities and guarantee them equal opportunity to pursue employment and to participate in government programs and services.
“Much has been accomplished with ADA, but there is still much to do,” says Wayne Flesch, community relations coordinator for the East-West Gateway Council of Governments, the St. Louis region’s federally designated metropolitan planning organization. “All of Metro’s buses are now accessible. None of them were 25 years ago.”
Most bus stops have been made accessible, Flesch says, and progress is being made on the remaining ones. East-West Gateway receives federal funding to make all aspects of our local transportation system more accessible for the disabled and therefore in compliance with ADA guidelines.
The 25th anniversary of the passage of the ADA will be commemorated at the ADA25STL celebration from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the grounds of the Missouri History Museum, 5700 Lindell Blvd. in Forest Park An ADA celebration march is planned at 11 a.m. followed by an awards ceremony, live music, food trucks, and vendor booths.
The Disability Rights Museum on Wheels, a 48-foot interactive traveling museum with exhibits about the fight for equal rights by people with disabilities, will be at the Missouri History Museum. The bus that completed the Freedom Bus Tour through 33 states also will at the ADA25STL observance. The bus will have examples of the work of photographer Tom Olin, who has documented what the ADA has meant for life in the United States.
“We have made significant progress in accessibility,” says Flesch. “But much remains to be done. Many buildings were grandfathered in and have not yet been made accessible.”
A more abstract problem is the struggle to change people’s preconceptions and behavior related to the disabled. “We still have issues with understanding disability, how we view it, and the words we use,” Flesch says.
Words such as disabled, deaf, hard of hearing, disabled since birth, psychiatric disability, mental illness, seizures, and learning disability are recommended by disability experts. Words to be avoided include cripple, handicapped, invalid, wheelchair-bound, deaf and dumb, birth defect, crazy, insane or retarded.
Some of the behaviors that can annoy those with disabilities include continuing to try to help someone when the person says he does not need it, patting a person in a wheelchair on the head, telling them what a “shame” it is they have a disability, and congratulating them for doing everyday things like waiting for a bus or going to a grocery store.
The ADA25STL event from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Satruday, Oct. 3 at the Missouri History Museum is presented by Centene Corporation and sponsored by Enterprise Financial, Enterprise Holdings, Nestle Purina, Maryville University in St. Louis, Metro, and Washington University in St. Louis. It is organized by the Missouri History Museum and the Starkloff Disability Institute.
Many employers have made commitments to hiring individuals with disabilities and several will be accepting applications at the Saturday event.