Center marks eight years with ADA

by Stacy Jo

While changing a law is a difficult and lengthy process, people with disabilities say attitudes are even slower to change.
Celebrating the legal victories already accomplished and recognizing the attitude changes yet to be achieved, the Disabled Student Cultural Center honored the eighth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on Coffman Plaza on Thursday.
Representatives from more than eight community organizations, including ADA Minnesota and the Minnesota Disability Law Center, drew passersby to the information fair. While acknowledging the ways the act made life with disabilities easier, representatives said they are striving to change negative attitudes about people with disabilities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act, signed into law on July 26, 1990, intends to make American society more accessible to people with disabilities. The act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, programs and services.
Provisions of the law include requiring that businesses provide reasonable disability accommodations and that public transportation systems provide accessibility for people with disabilities.
Mandy Perlman, interim chairwoman for the Disabled Student Cultural Center, said the passing of the ADA made a marked difference in her life. Perlman, who is vision impaired, said the act made it possible for her to participate in higher education.
Perlman said ADA provisions — such as those improving the efficiency of snow removal from curbs or making curb cuts in sidewalks — make life easier for everyone.
“The ADA is not about people with disabilities; it’s a civil rights movement,” said Perlman, a senior in the College of Biological Sciences.
As is typical with any civil rights movement, the changing of laws does not necessitate the changing of attitudes.
Linda Lattin, a peer support coordinator with the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living, has experienced insensitive attitudes firsthand.
Because her disability impairs her speech, Lattin said people frequently make unfair assumptions about her. She said one of her neighbors often thinks she is drunk because of her slurred speech. The 3.8 grade point average she maintained in college does not absolve her from patronizing and condescending attitudes, she said.
“People assume I’m retarded in some way,” said Lattin. “They label you right away.”
ADA Minnesota Manager Ann Roscoe said negative attitudes create the biggest barriers for people with disabilities. She said the attitudes of employers need to change before the employment of people with disabilities will make significant improvements.
“The ADA has made a lot of things possible, but we have to work on attitudes,” Roscoe said.
Despite slow-to-change attitudes, some students and staff say University officials set a good example by being receptive to accessibility improvement efforts.
In his 12 years at the University, Gene Chelberg, who is visually impaired, has noticed many changes in disability accommodations. Paratransit service, staff interpreters and document conversion are among the accommodations made since the passing of the act.
As a former student and current assistant director for Disability Services, Chelberg said the University’s educational setting provides the ideal place to learn about the values of disability culture.
“It’s about one-on-one connections you make with people,” Chelberg said.