OSWEGO — Local advocates for equal rights for individuals with disabilities commemorated the 29th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on Friday, praising the work done over the years and offering a glimpse toward the future in the fight for parity.
Advocates and representatives from multiple elected officials representing Oswego County gathered at the Arise Independent Living office in the city of Oswego to commemorate the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), originally signed into law in 1990.
The ADA, a piece of legislation signed during the George H. W. Bush presidency, is a civil rights bill that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities “in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation and all public and private places that are open to the general public,” the bill states.
The bill also suggests said guarantees are consistent with other civil rights protections, such as prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age and religion.
Arise Chief Development Officer Betty DeFazio told The Palladium-Times Friday the act contributes toward integrating people with disabilities into the community.
“The ADA really ensured that people with disabilities can and should be a part of community life,” she said. “One of the important features is it outlines that discrimination against people because of their disability is unacceptable.”
DeFazio applauded the efforts of local officials and said the Port City has done "a pretty good job” in making public spaces more accessible for people with physical disabilities.
“I applaud the efforts of Mayor Barlow to do things like create an ADA accessible playground,” DeFazio said. “In many cases people don't stop and think about how you work with a community to be able to make sure that everybody can be a part of it."
Charging stations for electric wheelchairs are also a notable example of accessibility in the city, according to DeFazio.
“It is a wonderful addition to our public places and if you are a person with a disability and use an electric wheelchair you want to get out and about but if you lose power you are very stuck,” she said. “This really has expanded the freedom people can experience and the opportunity for people to really enjoy those public places.”
Amendments to the act came in 2008, when then-President George W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). The modifications to the bill broadened the definition of “disability,” which ADA.org currently defines as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment.”
“I think there have been tremendous strides,” DeFazio said in relation to the evolution of the legislation over the years. “We now see things like curb cuts and people don't even think for a second about that. For people who are rolling their luggage or have a baby stroller, those little things have made a tremendous difference in the life beyond individuals with disabilities.”
While conditions for people with disabilities have improved, DeFazio said there is still more to be done.
“Now having said that there are two areas that we still have a lot to do and one is unemployment,” she said. “People with disabilities face a tremendously high level of unemployment and really want to be contributing members. The other is transportation that is accessible, that is a real challenge for somebody who has mobility impairments and can't do the kinds of things that some of us take for granted. I think if we can find ways to make transportation more accessible then perhaps we can really tackle some of the issues with unemployment issues.”
Oswego County representatives at the state and federal level also had a presence during the observance and discussed potential legislation that could be introduced into the state Assembly and Senate next year.
County Legislator James Karasek, R-Granby, who is also the manager of living services at Arise, thanked the office of Assemblyman Will Barclay, R-Pulaski, for helping advocates develop legislation that would facilitate ticketing for infractors that park on ADA-designated parking spots.
“Parking in disability spaces and violations was hitting in state codes so it needs to be in traffic law and that way it gives teeth back to the local communities that do not have a policy,” Karasek said. “The cities have a policy so they can ticket but a lot of the towns and villages don't touch that. Examples of that are the Granby and Central Square Walmart locations and they are stores that are on the outside of the city and there is no enforcement of this law because there is no actual ticketing policy.”
Karasek added that a bill could be introduced to the Assembly during the next legislative session by Barclay, with the Senate version of it being introduced by Sen. Patty Ritchie, R-Heuvelton.
“Our office is extremely proud to be able to advocate for a lot of the issues that everyone is facing and that Arise is trying to combat,” said Terry Wilbur, a spokesman for Barclay’s office.