A column by Bles Carmona
For the week of July 23-29, 2014
24 YEARS: THE IMPACT OF THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT OF 1990
For someone with a disability like me (I have bipolar disorder) and for the rest of us who have physical or mental disabilities, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) is our champion for being the prime author of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). He even spoke part of his introductory speech in the Senate in sign language so that his deaf brother could understand the proceedings. Twenty-four years ago this month, on July 26, 1990, the ADA was signed into law, resulting mainly in the lifting of discriminatory practices in employment situations for the disabled, and other major benefits for the disabled community as well.
The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability, much like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made illegal any discrimination based on sex, national origin, race, religion, and other characteristics. The determination of whether or not a condition is a disability is made on a case to case basis, but this excludes visual impairment that can be corrected by prescription lenses and current substance abuse. The original law has five titles under which major provisions in employment and access are enacted: Title I-Employment, Title II-Public Entities and Public Transportation, Title III-Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities, Title IV-Telecommunications, and Title V-Miscellaneous Provisions.
The ADA defines disability as “…a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.” In 2008, with the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA of 2008), significant additions to “major life activities” now include, but are not limited to, “caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working” as well as the operation of several specified major bodily functions (“ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA)—What Employers Need to Know”. HR.BLR.com. 2008).
Let’s deconstruct these definitions of disability for a little bit. Does it work better for you to understand disability in terms of people you may know or even people within your family? In the past 24 years, have you seen the ADA result in improvements in their lives in terms of educational and employment opportunities and the basic everyday reality of accessibility? Those ramps, those rails, those assistive devices – have you seen them benefit the disabled among us?
Disability defined is Benjamin, an African-American adult learner in his 50s with polio that I am tutoring under the Literacy Plus program of the Hayward Public Library. He moves around everywhere in his motorized wheelchair. He can commute from his apartment in Oakland to the Hayward main library precisely because of wheelchair-accessible buses and roads. Benjamin is an excellent visual artist and would like to be an architect someday. More than a year ago, I asked him to keep a gratitude journal as a part of our weekly lessons so that he can work on his spelling and grammar. Every week, his first entry is always about how grateful he is to God. The next entries are about mentioning by name the people who help him with his everyday tasks which he enumerates. However, the most beautiful entry he wrote was something that he was able to read aloud to a captive audience in last year’s Literacy Plus Reception at the Hayward City Hall Council Chambers. He wrote: “I thank God that the world is round and has four corners. Even if people are different, they are still the same.”
Disability defined is Eugene, the 33-year old Korean-American adult learner with cerebral palsy that I am also tutoring under the Literacy Plus program of the Hayward Public Library. Like Benjamin, he, too, is also in a wheelchair but not a motorized one since his spastic hands have a little difficulty mastering the controls. Eugene is very thoughtful and considerate, and when you hear him speak, you would know that you are talking to a deep and sensitive young man. He likes sports (Go Giants and 49ers!), he and I both like “Melissa and Joey,” and he likes some reality shows on TV. He also has a devoted mother, Sue, to whom Eugene is not defined solely by his disability, but also by his sweet and caring character.
Disability defined is Blesilda: yes, me. Mine is not the type of disability that is immediately obvious because right now I am being maintained on a cocktail of psychotropic medications. I have bipolar disorder; I’ve had it since I was in my early 20s, which is the typical time when such a mental illness manifests, most of the time due to a combination of genetic predisposition and stress. Bipolar disorder is called a mood disorder, as opposed to a thought disorder, since it primarily affects feelings. Hence, a person with bipolar disorder is prone to manic highs or depressed lows, swinging from one extreme to the other unless medicated via conventional psychiatric prescriptions or controlled through more natural means like diet, supplements, and/or other alternative treatments.
Mental disability is a little bit “harder” to prove than physical disability because for example, when I tell people that I have a mental illness or am bipolar, they go, “ WTF?! You don’t look crazy at all. You look normal to me.” However, if we go by the ADAAA expanded version of major life activities, I have significant difficulties in the following areas: concentrating, learning, working, communicating and thinking. I am being helped in my community college education by the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation through the recommendation of the school’s disabled student resource center. Never too late to study at 44.
If I am in one of my manic phases, I may be quiet for a while but my mind is going 90 thousand miles a minute with crazyweird sorts of intersecting ideas that are too profound for words and yet are always somehow irrevocably connected. The mantra, “Everything is connected” may have been the product of a eureka moment of one manic dude or dudette.
However……….when……….I……….am……….depressed…..I……….cannot………. think……….clearly……….and……….my………. mind……….is……….so……….slow.*** I am not motivated, not inspired, not titillated. When I am depressed sometimes the psychic pain cuts so agonizingly deep that I just want to die. Yes, it could get that serious. Suicide is a serious and dangerous possibility when one is depressed. It’s a good thing that so far I have not experienced a depression as deep as this in a long time.
Benjamin, Eugene, and I are just some real-life examples of people with disabilities so I could make you feel that we are still humans with hopes and aspirations despite our limitations. We are so very grateful that the ADA was passed 24 years ago. We are being helped by this law.
With inclusive legislation like this, it is clear that any kind of discrimination has got to go.
Find advisor Blesilda44 at KEEN.com, 1-800-ASK-KEEN (1-800-275-5336), extension 05226567 either by phone or chat: Mon-Fri 7-10 pm, Sat-Sun 7-11 pm Pacific. I speak English, Tagalog, and some Spanish. For personal readings, email me here: firstname.lastname@example.org