Making a living off the products of a major civil rights law is not easy, even when that law is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
. Early in my disability career I was able to do that, quite successfully, and I've been able to apply that initial knowledge in both personal life and several professional careers since then.
When the ADA was passed by Congress in 1990, some of us had the impression that the battle waged by those early disability leaders had finally been won and we could relax while waiting for those affected to simply fall into a state of compliance. A few of us were trained by the Department of Justice to become "train the trainers" for the ADA, and we were sent out to all 50 states and U.S. territories to make sure that there were people locally who were qualified to train even more people and to serve as resources when questions arose.
Several of my friends and colleagues have had similar careers, as consultants, trainers, speakers and writers who focused on the ADA and its applications to all aspects of American life. Others have gone on to careers in government service, where they have taken on the task of enforcing the law or putting it to use at whatever level of federal, state or local government they worked. Without their efforts, the ADA regulations would not have been implemented and there would be little chance that failing to do so would pose a risk of any legal penalties to the many municipalities and business owners that have yet to comply.
Unfortunately, almost 23 years after the ADA was passed by Congress, it is still not fully implemented. Trying to force that implementation requires a confusing mixture of complaints and lawsuits that might involve federal agencies, state or federal court systems, state human rights laws, local code compliance officers, state and local building codes and the help of attorneys to initiate whatever legal action is possible.
While there is so much wrong about refusing to comply with such an important law, it still amazes me that the media often joins with some judges in openly criticizing those who have taken on the fight for our civil rights and access to society by filing complaints or lawsuits to bring about compliance. I feel that stricter penalties built into the law would likely have resulted in a greater chance of timely implementation and far less clogging of the courts every time someone had to file a lawsuit when some party scoffed at the law.
That early training I received was very valuable when I worked as an ADA consultant and trainer, and I am pleased to report that the same knowledge is now readily available to everyone who has a question about the law or who wants to educate some business owner or municipality about their responsibilities. It is no longer necessary to sit in several days of classes in order to become knowledgeable about the law and related regulations, thanks to an updated tool which has just been published and disseminated by the Southwest ADA Center
. That ADA Center is a program of Independent Living Research & Utilization (ILRU
at TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. While the 10 regional ADA centers
will still be available for those who have complicated questions or who might desire a more formal training, either online or by calling 800-949-4232, the new Disability Law Handbook
has the potential to turn many more people with disabilities into informed ambassadors when it comes to our many different types of disability rights.
How important is that? I believe it is extremely important, as much damage is done when a well-meaning advocate begins to spout off about violations of their laws or rights without knowing what those rights actually entail. Whenever I see a letter, editorial or article that begins by quoting the "American Disability Act
" or some similar inappropriate title I know that additional misinformation will follow.
The Disability Rights Handbook
can also end the confusion that surrounds earlier laws, like Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
, the Architectural Barriers Act, and where the line is drawn between applying local building codes or the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG)
. This is especially important now, as recent changes in the ADA impact everything from swimming pool access to the definition of service animals.
It is a great time to end the confusion and arm ourselves with accurate information as we continue to educate about our need for, and right to enjoy, access to all aspects of our society. I hope you will check out the new Handbook and join me in that effort.
© 2013 Michael Collins