August 10, 2020
Shashi Bangera & Kate Weglikowski
This year, we’re recognizing the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. To commemorate this momentous milestone, the Viscardi Alumni Association held a virtual gathering to celebrate and reflect on how the lives of people with disabilities have changed since this landmark legislation was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, and what improvements still need to be made in 2020. Attendees tested their knowledge in a trivia game, engaged in a lively discussion about disability inclusion, and accessed helpful resources.
A topic that dominated the conversation was the need for better representation of people with disabilities across the board, especially in the workplace and the entertainment industry. Most alumni agreed that while great strides have been made in the areas of entertainment, employment, and accessibility, there is still more work to be done to increase the visibility of people with disabilities in all areas of public life.
Alumni touched on television shows, movies, and books prominently featuring people with disabilities, and how although it’s great to see people with disabilities in the spotlight, it’s even better when those roles are played by persons with disabilities. Recently, there’s been a push for more opportunities for actors with disabilities. Actors like 2019 Tony Award-winner Ali Stroker, who was recently seen in Broadway’s Oklahoma! and will headline The Viscardi Center’s virtual Reach for a Star fundraiser this October 15, and Mica Fowler, the lead actor in the television show Speechless, are opening doors for their fellow entertainers with disabilities and inspiring the disability community to achieve their professional aspirations.
Since the induction of the ADA, there have been more employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Unfortunately, people with disabilities still account for a small percentage of the workforce. Recently, the global pandemic has added an extra obstacle for people with disabilities to find employment. An additional hurdle for many is retaining medical benefits while being employed. Many alumni want more resources available that empower people with disabilities as well as employment opportunities to be more available to people with disabilities.
Attendees also addressed common misconceptions about the disability community, and why people with disabilities need opportunities to do things in a different way. Alumni shared experiences they had, and what they did to deal with them. Many also offered advice as to how to handle certain awkward situations. (During this portion of the event, there were a lot of laughs!)
The conversation flowed to the topic of leaders with disabilities who have had a positive impact on the disabled community. There were many examples. Naturally, Dr. Henry Viscardi, Jr. was the first person mentioned because he created the Henry Viscardi School as a place where all the alumni felt they could be their true selves. John D. Kemp, the President & CEO of The Viscardi Center, was mentioned as another prime example of a role model and advocate for people with disabilities.
The ADA has enabled reasonable access to most public areas, but obstacles still remain. Accessible transportation continues to be a barrier for people with disabilities. Many alumni shared their frustration with the difficulty of depending on public transportation, which is often limited and unreliable. Alumni also feel that a general lack of awareness of people with disabilities’ needs is another huge concern. Alumni feel that those without disabilities must be more mindful of people with disabilities’ needs, whether by providing ramps to safely board trains or eliminating potential obstructions (steps to enter buildings, having elevators, and smooth curb cuts) so people with disabilities can easily enjoy all aspects of life.
In 2020, Alumni would like to see more advances and opportunities in the areas of employment, housing, media representation, and overall accessibility. In terms of immediate accessibility priorities, the consensus is that there needs to be more doors with the electric press door button, so a person with a disability can readily and independently open doors for themselves, rather than depend on someone to open the door for them. There also needs to be more accessible bathroom stalls that are big enough so someone with a disability can easily open and close the door.
By having people with disabilities continue to educate and advocate for more accessibility and opportunities for persons with disabilities, the hope for a more inclusive world seems more attainable than ever. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for people with disabilities. The road ahead looks bright.
Here is a list of disability-related resources for alumni:
The National Business & Disability Council and The Viscardi Center’s new Disability Employment Source, where individuals can build and post resumes, search for open positions, take over 200 free training courses, and more: https://des.nbdc.com/
Able Newspaper: http://ablenews.com
Disability Scoop: https://www.disabilityscoop.com