To the Editor:
Re “The A.D.A. at 30: Beyond the Law’s Promise” (special section, July 26):
When President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans With Disabilities Act 30 years ago, it recognized the needs of millions of people of all ages who had been overlooked in previous legislation. As one of them myself, I found it gratifying to read your thoughtfully selected articles commemorating that auspicious anniversary.
Unlike race, which cannot be altered, a temporary or permanent disability, whether from injury, illness or aging, can be acquired by anyone. Thus, we all have a stake in protecting the civil rights of people with disabilities.
The remarkable advances in critical medical care and the aging trends in society suggest that the ranks of this group will continue to increase in the future. And it should not be forgotten that, in the words of Dr. Howard Rusk, though people may function within the limits of their disability, they can still function to the hilt of their ability.
Stanley F. Wainapel
The writer, who is blind, is clinical director of rehabilitation medicine at Montefiore Medical Center.
To the Editor:
I enjoyed reading your series examining the Americans With Disabilities Act on its 30th anniversary, but I was disappointed to see no mention of the person responsible for this historic piece of legislation, former Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa. Put simply, the A.D.A. would likely not be law today if it weren’t for Senator Harkin. I know, because I was there.
While it’s remembered as a bipartisan triumph, the A.D.A. was met with tremendous pushback from the outset. Senator Harkin, whose brother was deaf, authored what became the final bill and was its chief sponsor in the Senate. The A.D.A. was personal for him, and the empathy and love that drove Senator Harkin’s tireless advocacy for the bill were instrumental in securing key alliances across the aisle — including the Republican president, George H.W. Bush. Upon the passage of this landmark legislation, Senator Harkin delivered his speech on the Senate floor in sign language, a first in the history of the Senate.
Senator Harkin’s masterful navigation of the A.D.A. was an example of Washington at its best — both parties coming together to make our country a fairer, more just place. No examination of the A.D.A. is complete without mentioning this man, whose leadership, vision and hard work 30 years ago resulted in the passage of one of the most consequential pieces of legislation in our nation’s history.
The writer is a former Democratic senator from Nevada who served as the Senate majority leader from 2007 to 2015.
To the Editor:
Joseph Shapiro’s excellent article “Generational Expectations” suggests that the generation of people with disabilities that has come of age since the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act can be characterized by an identity of disability pride. My colleague Alex Heckert and I have conducted research on this population, as well as those of its older members. Our most striking finding was the diversity of disability identities.
Yes, pride was more common among our younger respondents, but so was “typicality,” an identity of “fitting in” and not participating in disability rights activism. In general, disability pride is associated with activism and is more common among those with lifelong disabilities than among those who acquire their disabilities later in life.
Although the A.D.A. has increased accessibility, stigma has not disappeared, and those who have been exposed to negative societal attitudes often continue to have those attitudes after they become disabled. Thus, while acknowledging the progress our society has made, we should keep in mind the complexity of disability identity and recognize that the need for attitudinal change must continue.
Rosalyn Benjamin Darling
The writer is professor emerita of sociology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
To the Editor:
Re “Building Accessibility,” by Michael Kimmelman:
I appreciate Mr. Kimmelman’s belated recognition that when architecture fails to consider the needs of people with disabilities, such projects (like Hunters Point Library) are neither impressive nor — often — legal under the Americans With Disabilities Act. I’d add that the A.D.A.’s impact is largely due to the tireless work of those who enforce it through the courts.
The A.D.A. has one primary enforcement mechanism: civil litigation. There is no relevant regulatory board, and voluntary compliance is far from universal. Although some litigants do abuse the system, the discourse surrounding so-called drive-by lawsuits has had the frustrating and often unfair result of giving A.D.A. litigation a bad name. In fact, much of the progress made in disability rights would not have happened without private litigants.
Private litigants have ensured that people with disabilities can use city sidewalks, vote privately and independently, safely access health care services, avoid abusive solitary confinement in juvenile detention centers, evacuate safely in an emergency, hail a cab, access audio descriptions for streaming video services and captioning in movie theaters, and so much more.
Thirty years later, this work is still far from over. The folly of building a brand-new, $41.5 million inaccessible library underscores why private litigants must continue bringing suits to enforce their civil rights.
The writer is a staff attorney at Disability Rights Advocates.
To the Editor:
I applaud The Times for devoting a special section to disabilities. But it was disappointing not to see any coverage of the daily problems that accompany hearing loss for the millions of people with the condition. I would not claim that hearing loss has the same impact as some of the disabilities discussed. Yet severe hearing loss can present many challenges.
I lost my career as a performing musician. In my work as an educational researcher at a university, it compromised my ability to function in meetings. If I go to the doctor or to the hospital, I may miss important communications, particularly when doctors and staff are masked. Hearing loss complicates speaking on the phone, going to dinner in a restaurant, using public transit and many other daily activities.
At the Hearing Loss Association of America, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the A.D.A. and the rights we have gained that have improved our lives. But even those gains required a fight and would not have been accomplished without the advocacy of our predecessor organization, Self-Help for the Hard of Hearing, which led the struggle to have hearing loss covered by the A.D.A.
The writer is president of the Hearing Loss Association of America, New York City chapter.
To the Editor:
I very much appreciated Andrew Solomon’s essay “Invisible Disabilities.” I wholeheartedly agree that, at the 30th anniversary of the A.D.A., we need to make the most vulnerable of us visible in order to enforce the application of the A.D.A. to this population.
The A.D.A. itself, as Mr. Solomon describes, can too often be a “blunt tool,” but for those with autism, learning differences, mental health issues or neurological issues, there are often no instruments at all.
Because of the stigma commonly associated with invisible disabilities, making those affected leery of disclosing them, it is even more important that there be base-level support available. The history of the A.D.A. has also taught us that the accommodations designed for one community frequently support others. For example, ramps were created for wheelchairs but also support those with strollers and walkers.
Similarly, as we develop guidelines for those with invisible disabilities, we will notice benefits to a multitude of people who think, feel and interact differently, either permanently or transiently. Ultimately, taking into account every type of body and mind enhances the future for all of us.
The writer is the director of the Center for Autism and Neurodiversity at Jefferson Health.