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On ADA anniversary, the impact is all around us

The Americans with Disabilities Act has made a world of difference for millions across our country since it was signed into law in 1990.

Joan Hatem-Roy, Chief Executive Officer

As we celebrate its 31st anniversary, we can see how it has changed our physical environment for the better. We see its effect every day in the ramps that make it possible for people in wheelchairs to navigate curbs to cross streets; in the braille on buttons in elevator controls; in the ramps and rails at the entrances of buildings; and in accommodations in subway trains and buses, the handicap-accessible lifts, and spaces and seat belts designated for wheelchairs, the ADA has made us more aware of the lives of people with disabilities. As a result of the ADA, we see renewed attitudes toward people with disabilities. We view the person with a disability as an individual first and not defined by a challenge or challenges.

The ADA prohibits discrimination in employment, education, and access to transportation and places of business that serve the general public. It brought the same kinds of protection as other legislation that outlawed discrimination based on race, sex, age, and religion. Nearly one in four adults, or 61 million Americans, are living with a disability. And, as we age, many of us will experience changes to our health that can impact our activities and the way we function, at home and outside.

However, despite the successes of the ADA, we know there is more work to be done to make our communities equitable for all. Our agency’s mission is to assist people to live their best lives. We provide older adults and others with many services, including assistance with housework, meal preparation, and transportation to medical appointments, help with finances, making choices about Medicare, nutrition, exercise, and combatting isolation. We aid a wide range of people, including children with disabilities as young as 3. While our programs are not all specifically designed for people who have disabilities, they are fashioned to make access easier. Improving access is integrated into our mission. The ADA had aided us immeasurably in growing and improving our services.

As we mark this anniversary of the passage of the ADA, we are deeply grateful for the many positive changes it has promoted. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages all of us to become an ALLY in our communities and promote inclusion for all. Being an ALLY stands for:

• Acknowledge and respect individual experiences and abilities

• Learn about different disability types

• Leverage your influence to promote access and inclusion

• Yield the floor to people with disabilities to help identify and eliminate barriers

We know more can be done to identify and remove barriers that prevent people with disabilities from living independently and being fully engaged in their communities, but the ADA is a major milestone to celebrate as we move forward.

We provide older adults and others with many services. Our experienced staff is available to help. Visit us online at www.ESMV.org for more information. You can also call us at 1-800-892-0890 or email info@esmv.org. Joan Hatem-Roy is the Chief Executive Officer of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore.