PEAK—Promoting Education, Awareness, and Knowledge
University of the Rockies is proud to share our PEAK initiative: Promoting Education, Awareness, and Knowledge. Every month, we'll highlight different causes and opportunities that reflect the values of the University. You'll also learn ways that you can participate or be more involved.
October 2011 – Disability Employment Awareness Month
20 Years of Access and Awareness in Higher Education
by Poppy Fitch
Above: The chance to arrive at this day is an opportunity no one should be denied.
When it comes to planning for the future, many students have enough on their plates without any added source of concern. However, for the one in five Americans who have a disability, or who will experience one at some point in their lives, the daunting reality exists that those with disabilities experience an average poverty rate of nearly double the non-disabled population (US Census).
As Associate Director of our Office of Student Access and Wellness, I think about how to help create a better future for students with disabilities every day. Thankfully, in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was created, providing disabled Americans - including students in college and university settings - with protection against discrimination, and with better access.
The last few years have seen a flurry of activity in the landscape of access for students with disabilities. In 2008, Congress passed amendments to the ADA that clarified and reiterated who is covered by the law's civil rights protections, creating the ADA Amendments Act of 2008. In an effort to restore the spirit of the law, this act revised the definition of disability to more broadly encompass impairments that substantially limit one or more major life activities. The 2010 ADA Regulations then began implementing the amendments, taking effect on March 15, 2011. And last year, the ADA celebrated its 20th anniversary.
For me, the benefits of these historic pieces of legislation have come alive in the stories of students with disabilities who are pursuing higher education in order to improve their lives. In the early 1990s when the ADA was fresh legislation, I was a college student studying at a community college in San Diego. One of my first graduations was spent acting as a mobility assistant for a student who was blind and completing his Associate's degree. This accomplishment was no small feat, as he'd managed his studies before the ADA's provisions, and without assistive technology. I was in awe of this student, and inspired by his determination to achieve a goal that would no doubt enhance the opportunities available to him in his future. Being a small part of his accomplishment gave me inspiration, and put me on course to continue my own journey of supporting students with disabilities in college and university settings for the next 20 years.
After ten years of graduation ceremonies and a treasure trove of student successes, the events of September 11, 2001 occurred and subsequently reshaped the dialog happening on college and university campuses. Still at the community college at that time, I was working with a young woman with autism who would be graduating as the valedictorian of her class. Her commencement address was one of the most powerful I have ever experienced. It spoke of an urgency to move toward peace, and encouraged us all to "sit together at the table of understanding" (Goddard, 2002). This speech, filled with very personal themes but also with a poetic universality, left few dry eyes among the audience.
It was only a few months later when my second daughter Katie, ironically, was diagnosed with autism just short of her third birthday. Here was a clear sign that my professional path to this point had simply been preparation for the personal work that lay ahead for me. As a parent, I worried for Katie's future, for the prejudice that she would endure, and for the pain she would experience as a result of her differences. When I struggled to understand her, I always remembered the themes of understanding within that special commencement address.
During these past years, the ADA has served as a personal reminder for me of the importance of civil rights protections in order to ensure access to the possibility of a bright future for all. During the past decade, my worries for Katie's future have eased, being replaced with a sense of hope and optimism inspired primarily by my up close and personal view of the power of education to improve lives.
The author on her own graduation day with her two daughters, Katie and Hannah.
- President Obama's ADA Anniversary PSA. (2010, July 26). YouTube. Video retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/v/PZ7ZGXNYNlk?fs=1&hl=en_US
- ADA Home Page. (n.d.) Retrieved September 15, 2010 from the US Department of Justice website, http://www.ada.gov/
- Office for Civil Rights: Questions and Answers. (2009, March 27). Retrieved September 15, 2010 from the US Department of Education website,http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/504faq.html.
- The ADA Amendments Act of 2008. (2008, September 25). Retrieved September 15, 2010 from the United States Access Board website,http://www.access-board.gov/about/laws/ada-amendments.htm
- The ADA 2010 Regulations, (2010, September 15). Retrieved August 1, 2011 from the US Department of Justice website,http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/ADAregs2010.htm
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View President Obama's public service announcement regarding this historic event: