Today marks the twenty-eighth anniversary of the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) being signed into law. I have had the privilege to walk at the side of individuals who advocate for the rights of individuals with disabilities, to serve on councils and committees promoting independence, and to offer my personal and professional support those pursuing their dreams. During these journeys, I came to realize the significance of the ADA and the role it played in the lives of individuals with disabilities. It provided the legal foundation to protect an individual from discrimination in the workplace, to ensure one’s ability to live in their communities of choice, and to access public spaces from which people had been historically segregated.
The most remarkable discovery I have had during this journey is that the ADA did more than help individuals with disabilities; it helped us all. Most people do not even notice these everyday life hacks that were created by the ADA. Below are four everyday lifehacks that resulted from the ADA.
Life Hack #1: Curb cuts
In order to make communities more “walkable” and accessible, towns and cities responded to the ADA by cutting the curbs at intersections and crosswalks. The curb cuts allowed for wheelchair users and people of any age with mobility challenges to better navigate their communities. Curb cuts provide smoother transition to/from sidewalk to street. I call this an everyday life hackbecause I can guarantee nearly everyone reading this post has used a curb cut. You might have used it while simply walking or running in your community. If you have ever navigated your town with a baby stroller, I’m thinking this simple solution has made your life a whole lot easier. I know it made mine easier when we went on walks while using the baby stroller.
Life Hack #2: Automatic door switches
Another simple accessibility accommodation is the automatic door switches. I also used these when using a baby stroller. Simply push the button and the doors open wide so I never had to navigate the baby stroller through the door. I have come to especially love these switches when entering a medical clinic. I might be a little bit of a freak about the germs residing on a medical clinic door handle, but I worry less about this when I press the door switch with the back of my wrist or elbow. My guess is many of you have used these switches that was primarily in response to the ADA and accessibility to public places.
Life Hack #3: Entryway ramps
Similar to the curb cuts and the automatic door switches, entryway ramps were put in place for accessibility purposes. While I can easily describe using baby strollers on these ramps as well, I recall a colleague with knee problems who preferred to use the ramp and avoid the stairs. It was less painful for her to access the building via the ramp versus climbing the steps to the office’s front door.
Life Hack #4: Detailed job descriptions
The ADA provided the foundation for independence and inclusion in public spaces through the above examples of accessibility. Accessing employment is also one of the other extremely important aspects of the ADA. The ADA provides the foundation for providing individuals with disabilities with reasonable accommodations within the workspace to assist in completing the work. While I am not going into all of the possible accommodations, suffice it to say that such accommodations have helped older adults and individuals who have acquired a disability through a health event (e.g., stroke) also remain productive members of the workforce.
The life hack I want to highlight related to employment is the job description itself. Have you ever noticed the level of detail these descriptions provide? Job descriptions actually describe what an employee will likely experience in terms of standard functions of the job. Job descriptions provide explanations of weight limits, of the amount of time an employee will be sitting, standing, lifting, or bending during their workday, and other details that help to describe the minimal standards. This lifehack is related to the ADA as job descriptions help inform about minimal functional standards. However, these types of job descriptions help all potential employees, not just individuals with disabilities. We all know what the job requirements are before even applying. This puts us all on equal grounds and with the same understanding of the job’s qualifications. The intent is to limit discriminatory behavior of potential employers.
The ADA has assuredly had a positive impact on people’s independence through improved accessibility and opportunity to succeed in employment; all people. While the ADA was written to better promote the independence of individuals with disabilities, the reality of this law is that it has benefitted us all.
Iowa’s Area Agencies on Aging continue their efforts to support independence of individuals with disabilities by connecting them with community-based services and supports. If you or a loved one are trying to identify such services, LifeLong Links (866-468-7887) is a great place to start.