As an abled parent of a disabled child, I’m learning to help my son manage accessibility burdens because our communities and institutions aren’t designed with him in mind. We can do better for children with disabilities by building more accessible, more inclusive communities and by teaching them how to assert their rights in situations that aren’t in compliance with the law.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1990 and forms the foundation of disability integration into employment and public spaces. The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and requires that public spaces be made accessible to people with disabilities.
But the mechanism of enforcement relies on people with disabilities filing individual complaints and lawsuits – the system as it exists delegates a collective responsibility for accessibility onto the people who are excluded. The result is that, even though the law requiring accessibility for public spaces is more than 30 years old, many places are still inaccessible for people with disabilities.
During the first few years of my son’s life, he had several medically complex health issues and life was overwhelming – my focus was on keeping him alive. I didn’t have the bandwidth to pick fights over accessibility, so when things weren’t accessible, we just didn’t do them.
As a child with medical complexities, my son took a few years to learn to walk well enough to get around. The process of him learning involved several different walkers, along with a stroller to carry his medical equipment. The ADA rules that are in place to make public spaces accessible for wheelchairs should have made more spaces workable for strollers and walkers – but they didn’t. I threw out my back more times than I can count trying to balance a crying, fragile child in one arm and 40 pounds of equipment in the other.