Inspire! Topic: Dis/Abilities

May 19, 2018
A Long Road


27 years ago, the Americans With Disabilities Act, or ADA, was passed. I was working at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital at the time. I had a variety of responsibilities. I coded medical records. I performed utilization reviews to improve our care delivery. I talked insurance companies into approving additional days of coverage for our patients. And I met with and admitted every patient who came through our doors.


I’m not sure how it’s structured now, but at the time I worked there we had four units: Traumatic Brain Injury, Spinal Injury, Stroke and Pediatrics. People often assumed that would be a depressing job. It wasn’t. By the time people came to see us they were usually happy to be alive and ready to work hard on regaining – as much as they could – whatever had been lost. And by the time they left they had usually made great strides and were anxious to get out of the hospital and return to the comfort of home. So in many ways we were in the best place to celebrate victories…


What we didn’t necessarily see were the struggles that inevitably waited outside of our door – in a world that isn’t always as accommodating to wheelchairs and canes and hearing and vision problems.

The passing of the ADA was significant because it began removing some of those barriers. The ADA made it illegal to discriminate against people with disabilities. As part of the ADA, guidelines were established to ensure equal access to public facilities and services to people with disabilities.


Suddenly, someone in the wheelchair had the legal right to expect that they could use the bathroom. Think about that. Think about what it meant to be wheelchair bound before July 1990. Think about being in a public building and having to (excuse my language) pee.

Of course, the ADA did more than that. It prohibited discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, and transportation. The purpose of the ADA is simple and straightforward: to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.


19 percent of the population have a disability that substantially affects their life activities. It may be cognitive, developmental, intellectual, mental, physical, sensory, or some combination of these. It may have been present since birth or it may have started during a person's lifetime. In fact, aging is the number one cause of disability. Which means none of us are immune.

Disabilities can be obvious. But up to 90% of disabilities are not visible. For instance, some people with sight or hearing disabilities do not wear glasses or hearing aids. Intellectual disabilities and mental illness are not only often hidden disabilities, but they also carry their own additional stigmas and stereotypes. 

We, as people with or without a disability, have come a long way in making life more “accessible” for people with a disability. There have been guidelines put in place and laws created that help to ensure a more accessible America …but, there is far more that needs to be changed and preferably at a faster rate than the last 27 years.


People with disabilities have battled with stigmatism, irrational fears, and harmful stereotypes that resulted in oppression, pity, ridicule, poverty, and an inability to contribute to society.  

Many of those barriers still exist.

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We need to continue to normalize the conversation so that stigma can be eradicated. We need to pay more attention to the language we use. We need to be aware of the many ways in which we hamper accessibility. And we have to debunk stereotypes around disability and replace them with knowledge, understanding, and respect.

So for our reflective exercise today, I am going to invite you to consider the loss of some ability. We’ll come around with a basket from which you will draw a disability. Then I ask that you take a minute just to consider what losing that ability would mean to you and those you love.  

Special thanks to our Panelists for being at our last Inspire! Event of this season! 


Many thanks to Leppinks for donating our lunch!

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This was our last Inspire! event for the Season. We'll start our next season of Inspire! in September.  We are asking folks to provide their input for the upcoming season, so please take a minute if you can and fill out our survey!

2018/2019 Inspire! Survey Monkey

Be sure to check out our Summer Series in August, focusing on Addiction.