What the ADA Means to Me – Guest Blog

Author: Guest

For this blog, we invited Samuel Mattle, a grant partner and Executive Director of the Center for Self Advocacy to share the impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was signed into law on July 26, 1990. Center for Self Advocacy uses a person-centered approach in providing peer-to-peer support training, leadership workshops, and disability awareness training. The organization emphasizes system advocacy in an effort to increase accessibility within the Western New York community

The 31st Anniversary of the ADA means many things to many people — from getting on public transportation to go out in the community independently, rights to have equal opportunity at getting a job you are qualified for, and not discriminating based on your disability. 

The ADA is a law that gives rights to all people with disabilities. People fought with their voices, their bodies, and their lives for their voice to be heard, not to be looked at as something, but to be recognized as a person. The Disability Rights Movement pushed the systems to look at this as a human rights issue.

My first experience with the ADA was when I was 15, they made all the people with disabilities go to a special event to learn about public transportation. That was the first time I was aware that there was a law protecting me. I did not realize how much until I got older, but at that age, I knew I had a right to take the bus, but before that I never knew that. From there, I learned about and started using Paratransit. Over time, I started using the metro bus to go back and forth to school and back and forth home and going to other places like to the mall, to see some of my friends that also had disabilities.

When I started college, I used Paratransit and the metro bus as well. I was able to get assistance from the Disabilities Office to have help in notetaking, physical assistance, typing assist, and extra time on tests.  All of the educational opportunities and supports that were given to me happened because of the existence of the ADA.   These supports enabled me to earn a Master of Public Administration degree. 

The ADA also impacted where I go as a person, like to a movie theater, and restaurants. You can see the difference, like putting curb cuts in so people can cross the street and enter the sidewalk safely. If you go into the community a lot or not, you will know you always had access to the community because of the ADA.

As I started becoming involved in the self-advocacy movement, I learned more about my rights as a person with a disability and what I can expect from places of employment and that we should not be discriminated against. Before I knew anything about the ADA, I went to a job at a supermarket. They asked me what I thought I could do, I said, I can do bottle and can return. They said, can you get up that step? I said no but if you put a ramp there, I can. And their reply was, well, we are not going to do that. This was before I had any knowledge of people with disabilities being employed and having any rights to a position that they were able to do. 

The biggest impact that the ADA had for me was to give me the opportunity to start my own organization for people with developmental disabilities to help them develop the skills and knowledge on issues and programs that concern them. The Center for Self Advocacy uses a platform with peer support to educate and instill confidence in people that we serve. 

Another thing that people often forget is that, once you become an employed adult, you still need to have those same types of supports that you always needed. I haven’t changed. Without the help of self-direction, I would be struggling to get these supports. I also still need to have assistance from home health care aides in order to live my everyday life. The ADA has changed people’s perspectives on what is possible. 

However, I still think we have a long way to go. There needs to be more teeth in what the ADA can do. It feels like things were half done. We have curb cuts and ramps put in, but yet we cannot enter the door because there are no push buttons, and we cannot utilize the bathroom because we can not reach the soap dispenser or paper towel rack. We need inclusive bathrooms, with turnaround space in a stall for a wheelchair or have ceiling tracks available.  Hospitals and doctors’ offices do not have lifts or the ability to get patients onto a table without lifting. 

I think automatic doors for all businesses should be mandated, just like the ramps are. What good is a ramp if I cannot open the door it leads me to? Accessibility for people with disabilities is more than a ramp and an automatic door. Society needs to look at the people with disabilities that are in big and small communities and accommodate them to have them be part of the community. Even if you get a social security check, it is still money, and people want choices just like everyone else who is able-bodied has.

We have to remember, as we look forward to July 26, 2021, that we have been through a pandemic during which COVID caused a lot of people to become disabled. We also need to remember the intersectionality and cultural effects of people with disabilities.  They are not just disabled, they have different cultures, and to recognize that disability is not the only part of the person, you have to look at the whole person.

Disability Pride means much more than going to Canalside for a hot dog on the day of the parade. It’s about acceptance not only from the disability community but from society here in Buffalo, which doesn’t happen for me that much.