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‘The ADA is here to stay’

Observer-Dispatch - 7/31/2019

There was a time some three decades ago when accessibility to all regardless of any handicap was seen as a radical notion, recalled Tania Anderson, CEO of ARISE.

Thankfully, with the passage of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, today that is no longer the case, she told the audience July 25 during the annual ADA anniversary celebration at the Kallet Civic Center in Oneida.

"I'm glad it's no longer a radical idea," she said.

It has been 29 years since the law was passed, and although there is still work to be done to guarantee 100 percent accessibility to all, much has been accomplished during those years.

"It is working and it's working because of everyone in this room," she told the audience, made up of a group of persons with physical and mental challenges and their supporters.

In addition to representatives of ARISE, the event also welcomed out participants and staff from ACCESS-VR, the Arc of Madison Cortland, BRiDGES, Heritage Farm, iCircle Care, Liberty Resources, LIFEPlan CCO NY, the Madison County Department of Health and the Madison County Motivators. The Arc's Sunshine Choir and Wind Dancers entertained the audience before the presentation.

Perry Courto, the new executive director of the Arc of Madison Cortland, called people with disabilities the largest minority group. But that doesn't always mean others in the community understand their needs, however, so they should continue to advocate for rights to access as guaranteed by the ADA, he said.

Courto said he was glad to see so many groups working in unity to promote the ADA.

"It's great to see so many agencies come together for this event," he said.

LIFEPlan director of member engagement Janelle Fields told the story of the event's emcee, Nicole Hastings, who was in a wheelchair while she was attending a non-handicap accessible school district. When the rest of the children in her grade advanced to the classrooms upstairs in their building, Hastings was unable to join them because there was no way for her to get up the stairs, Fields explained.

This motivated Hastings to advocate for herself and other handicapped persons to prompt the school to install an elevator to make the second floor accessible to all. It likely wasn't an easy task, although the improvement will benefit generations to come – just like all of the accessibility upgrades that have resulted from the ADA.

"Making changes can be hard, but there is always the possibility for things to be better than they are now," Fields said.

Self-advocates John Nelson and Esther Dygert told their own stories of dealing with disabilities, and Dygert went on to lead – quite loudly and enthusiastically – a march around the block in downtown Oneida. The group held several banners from their individual agencies and chanted, "The ADA is here to stay" like Marines on a morning run.

Oneida mayor Leo Matzke had perhaps the most emotionally-hitting testimonial ... because of an illness in recent years, he too has found himself with physical limitations that challenge his own ability to get around, he said. Matzke explained he thought he was empathetic to people with disabilities before that, but realized just how much more he felt in unity with them after he was in a wheelchair for a stint himself.

Matzke read an official proclamation naming July as Disabilities Awareness Month in Oneida. He applauded the work of the everyone there in making sure ADA regulations are known and followed.

"I'm looking at the true heroes of the community," he told the audience.

___

(c)2019 Observer-Dispatch, Utica, N.Y.

Visit Observer-Dispatch, Utica, N.Y. at www.uticaod.com

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