When my daughter was born 22 years ago the Americans with Disabilities Act had already been passed in 1990. I had no awareness of the weight of this legislation or its impact on my life as a disabled person and parent. I also had no support system and was not affiliated with any local disability-related orgs that could have provided that awareness. Additionally, as a disabled woman of color I know that sometimes the trickle down and outreach is slower in coming to our communities. Permeation may prove more difficult perhaps because of culture, family, religion distrust of establishment, limited resources, etc.
Looking back, I think of how beneficial that knowledge might’ve been and how my work in advocacy may have begun sooner fueled by this firepower. I was a college student at the time trying to balance books and bottles. I was going along to get along and hell-bent on proving my worth as a student and mother and boy was I tired! The combination of having a disability, motherhood, and being a student required a range of assistance and accommodations not to mention adaptive skills!
Some frustrations were easy fixes like getting classes on ground floors and at convenient times that benefited my well-being and ability to mother bearing in mind both our needs for sleep and sustenance. Others were not such an easy feat that involved frustration of structural changes of spaces/venues that I wanted to attend on campus but were less accessible or not at all. Great to have a ramp to gain entry but elation stops there at limited access as many buildings had no elevator to get to the second floor!
I reflect on how I might’ve been empowered to advocate for change back then armed with ADA knowledge of my civil rights as a disabled person and as a parent. I think of how I might’ve spoken up more, shared insight, gave passionate pitches, and perhaps scheduled time to sit in admin offices and speak with confidence that my rights were protected.
Years later as my daughter grew up and I gained exposure to advocacy circles, I became better informed about the ADA as a key piece of legislation protecting the rights of disabled persons. I may not be well-versed on all aspects that the ADA entails but knowing that it exists gives great peace of mind. Just knowing that having this legal backing should my rights be challenged or violated is a vindication that my life as a disabled person does indeed matter.
This realization has allowed me to pursue my passion of disability advocacy among other aspirations and affected my parenting in a favorable way. I’ve felt increased freedom to live more authentically and provide an example for my daughter to follow in pursuing her own dreams. My expanding self-awareness, enhanced advocacy and parenting skills have been impacted by disability and emboldened by the ADA and I’m grateful for it. Happy 26th Anniversary!