All over the world, people are learning to accept fellow citizens with disabilities. However, there are still disability-related difficulties in many places in the world. The United States is different. It has been able to come farther than many other places in the world. The country passed major disability legislation that celebrated its 25th year in 2015. Results of this law and other influences include: enlightened attitudes toward the disabled, advanced assistive tools and a new confidence disabled people are feeling. In the U.S.A., disability can no longer be considered a barrier.
The disappearance of barriers for the disabled within the U.S. is also due, in part, to the dedicated activity of organizations like Mobility International U.S.A. (MIUSA). This organization is an advocate for disabled people all over the world, with a special focus on the U.S. MIUSA’s mission is to “empower people with disabilities to achieve their human rights through international exchange and international development.”
MIUSA wants to change the way people with and without disabilities think about disability. The website says: “It’s time to advance the rights of people with disabilities in society through infiltration. To achieve equitable opportunities through inclusion.” This means they believe it’s important to not set apart those who are disabled, but to integrate them into our world naturally. It’s better for both the disabled and the non-disabled.
Further, MIUSA says: “By implanting innovative programs, we are building bridges to create a new era where people with disabilities will take their rightful place in the world community.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990
In 1990, Congress enacted a landmark law that began to change things for people with disabilities in the U.S. The law prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and ensures equal opportunity in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities and transportation. It also established TDD/telephone relay services for those with hearing disabilities.
The law, which was updated in 2011, is perhaps known best for the difference it has made in physical challenges of disability. After the law passed, doorways were made wide enough. Ramps were built to accommodate wheelchairs. Restrooms were designed so anyone could use them. Braille plaques were installed in many places to assist the vision impaired. And much more.
A shift in the stigma of disability
Along with barrier-busting support from the ADA and organizations like MIUSA came new attitudes toward disability. In the past, non-disabled people were hesitant to talk with those who were disabled. They didn’t seem to realize that a disability affected only one part of a person’s being. They didn’t understand that other qualities and abilities of a disabled person remained intact. It could even be said that some people were afraid of those who were disabled. They were afraid of what they didn’t know.
The stigmas associated with disability were resolved to a great extent by:
• More knowledge – Once the ADA was enacted, the work of organizations like MIUSA became better known, and people had more experience in general with disability, attitudes changed. There was less fear and less distrust of a disabled person’s abilities. The media helped by changing ways disabled people were seen in the news and entertainment.
• Greater familiarity – Because disabled people had better access through the ADA and because attitudes in general improved toward disability, more disabled people found ways to become integrated into society naturally. Frequent real-life experiences with disabled people helped non-disabled people feel comfortable working with, talking to and trusting those with disabilities. Many accessible tools, such as lower water fountains and higher toilets, are also used regularly by the non-disabled, which has removed some of the aversion to disability.
• Accountability – Once the law and attitudes changed, it became “not cool” to discriminate against disabled people. Many people in the United States pride themselves on accessibility and other support for the disabled. The citizens of the U.S. have over a period of time become more accountable to each other to treat disabled people better and remove whatever barriers they can to accommodate their disabilities and allow them to become a part of the community.
Disability is still difficult, but the barriers have fallen away
No one will deny that disability creates difficulty. It’s still, in many ways, difficult to conduct business or function personally with a disability—even in the United States. However, thanks to the ADA and the work of organizations such as the MIUSA, disability is becoming just one type of difficulty human beings of all types face. For those who want to visit the United States, disability can no longer be considered a barrier to keep them away.