Celebrating the ADA should be about honoring civil rights for people with disabilities and committing to making the world more inclusive. I’ve been thinking about how I want to celebrate the ADA. I was kind of disheartened online to see only info for businesses or info telling disabled people to be sure to tag the ways in which the world is more accessible because of the ADA.
The ADA is just one step in making sure that disabled people are treated with the respect they deserve. Because we live in a democracy (hopeful) and because ableism is so pernicious, everyone should be celebrating the ADA and commiting to a world that respects all bodies, minds, and bodyminds. The ADA benefits everyone—not by helping the economy (though it does), or offering us new ideas (does that too), but because it is a piece of making good on the promise that America is for everyone. We have a tremendously long way to go; the following list is just some ideas to consider what’s happened so far, and to think about where we can go.
#1. Commit to learning more about disability justice. Start with the principles of Disability Justice, conceived by many, explained by Patty Berne: https://www.sinsinvalid.org/blog/disability-justice-a-working-draft-by-patty-berne. Mia Mingus has some great interviews on this, for example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cJkUazW-jw. The book “Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice” by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha is also a great place to start.
#2. Think about disability representation in the media. A great intro to this topic is this article from CNN: https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/01/opinions/hollywood-disability-new-normal-opinion-novic/index.html. Also, let’s celebrate media that’s getting it right. One of my favorite examples of this is the show “Never Have I Ever,” (on Netflix) which features actress Lily D. Moore. Moore has Down Syndrome and plays a character with Down Syndrome on this show; none of this is swept under the rug AND Moore’s character Rebecca has a place in the show as a complete, nuanced character.
#3. Open caption photos. I know some folks disagree with me about the need for this on social media, but it’s good to practice and learn how to do it. You can create captions for your photos using “alt-text.” If that’s too complicated or you just don’t want to, consider open captioning. Open captioning means that the caption appears bracketed just below the text.
#4. Learn more about the ADA. This is a good catch-up article to get the lay of the land now: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/17/style/americans-with-disabilities-act.html.
#5. Check the captions for your YouTube videos. Yes, it takes a minute to edit them (YouTube may think you say some odd things) but this makes it so everyone can enjoy your videos.
#6. Think about event planning. Designate a contact for questions about accessibility for the next event you have. And yes, if you have an event that is “for the public,” you need to provide accommodations. In our stay-at-home life, this may mean providing captioning (CART) or an ASL interpreter. For all events, the first question should be one of access: how can the event to minimize the number of barriers to access? This might mean always having movies with captions on, requesting attendants always arrive scent-free, or always clearly labeling all food.
#7. Consider accessibility in your private life. Are there family members that have trouble hearing on Zoom? Friends who have an easier time focusing when you text instead of talk? When COVID-19 is over and you’re having your wedding for real, can people who use a wheelchair navigate your venue? You might know the slogan “The personal is political.” In this case, make sure your political convictions also match your personal ones. Inclusion doesn’t just happen “out there.” It happens in the way we treat each other in closeness, too.
#8. Say no to disability simulations as part of diversity training. There’s a lot of really wonderful writing on this, but the basic idea is: something like covering your face with a blindfold to experience “being blind” both is disrespectful to blind folks and perpetuates some pretty strange ideas. Consider instead diversity training that focuses on auditing spaces for accessibility, and creates a culture where people with disabilities can be empowered and respected (just like everyone else).
#9. Party with JAN! The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) hosts a bunch of information on workplace accommodations. This can be a great way to open your mind about what is possible when it comes to access. Often we create spaces and practices that exclude people with disabilities without realizing it because that’s “just how things are done.” https://askjan.org/
#10. Work on language. Lydia X. Z. Brown has written a foundational and important post and glossary about this here: https://www.autistichoya.com/p/ableist-words-and-terms-to-avoid.html