Sunday, January 4, 2004

Small, but sparkling, victories highlighted last year


Alive and well

By Deborah Kendrick
Enquirer contributor

Another year has passed and, at first glance, the progress made by Americans with disabilities is far from inspiring. The unemployment rate among working age people with disabilities remains at 70 percent. Kids with disabilities experience full inclusion only some of the time in some of the schools, and justification for singing the transportation blues persists.

Movie theaters in many cities have adopted technology enabling blind or visually impaired patrons to hear an added narrated track describing action, and deaf or hearing impaired patrons to pick up a device displaying closed captions at any seat in the house, Yet there is no such theater in Ohio, Kentucky, or Indiana.

There are still misconceptions about the abilities of people with physical or mental disabilities: people who talk over and around us; businesses that forget to incorporate our needs into programs and services; and Supreme Court cases that threaten the promise of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. The past year saw us go to war, inevitably increasing the number of disabled Americans. Congress passed Medicare legislation that might hurt more than help its recipients. And we witnessed the speedy passage of a bill in Florida to save a life whose value is debated by people with and without disabilities.

A bleak picture perhaps, and yet, as I pull away from the larger picture and focus instead on tiny ones, it is clear that 2003 sparkles with samples of joy and forward movement for people with disabilities.

Hall of Fame moment

To name a few:

• Dummy Hoy, a major league baseball play from 1886-1902, was inducted in to the Reds Hall of Fame July 20. Profoundly deaf, Hoy communicated on and off the field through American sign language, a fact which has steeped his name in legend. Real-time captioning and sign language interpreters during both the ceremony and the Reds vs. Giants game that followed made the event fully accessible (and consequently more fun) for deaf and hearing impaired fans.

• Microsoft announced its commitment to "intrinsic accessibility," ensuring that products newly developed will evolve with ongoing attentiveness to the needs of users with disabilities.

• The Roomba Robotic Floorvac, a flying-saucer style sweeper that cleans your floor while you do something else, actually takes into account the needs of people with a variety of disabilities in promoting its product. The specific issues of people who use wheelchairs, have developmental disabilities, are deaf or blind are all honestly addressed on the company's Web site. Recognizing the disabled and their families as a portion of the consumer market is good business, of course, but the company has approached these issues with such earnestness that I'd want to buy one even if it weren't an amazing product.

Government help

• In November, the Social Security Administration launched the third and final phase of its Ticket to Work program, mailing some four million "tickets" to SSI and SSDI recipients. About 385,000 of those individuals are Ohioans who, with this new approach to an old problem, might have a better shot at becoming tax-paying members of the work force.

• And, in my more personal universe, I have seen that those most persistent barriers to equality - attitudes - are slowly, truly, changing for the better. It's a slow process, but there seems to me a gradual opening to difference, less flinching at mentions of mental illness or serious disease. We can say words like cancer and bipolar, for example, without inciting disdain.

That's progress, albeit small, but progress of any kind is good enough for me. If we just keep moving forward, no matter how slowly, the gap will continue to narrow, and 2004 can bring people with disabilities more visibly into the mainstream.

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Contact Deborah Kendrick by phone: 673-4474; fax: 321-6430; e-mail: dkkendrick@earthlink.net




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