Today, we celebrate the 23rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) being signed into law. The ADA is landmark civil rights legislation that resulted from the intense and selfless activism of individuals and groups including the National MS Society who fought for their right to receive equal treatment and access. Because of their activism, today, the rights of people with disabilities are protected in several areas including education, employment, public services such as public transportation, public accommodations (restaurants, hotels and retail stores) and telecommunications. Since the ADA’s passage, great strides have been taken to improve the quality of life of people with disabilities and to allow them to more fully participate in and contribute to mainstream society.
Even before I was diagnosed with MS in 1987, I personally witnessed others benefit from this statute. Prior to the ADA, in my role as a health center professor and teacher at the University of Florida, I saw how difficult it was for “students” with disabilities to mainstream in medical training. After the passage of the ADA, other faculty members and I developed teaching and diagnostic aids to help students work hard to completetheir dreams of becoming health professionals. We used translators and transcribers; we developed augmented stethoscopes and other diagnostic aids; and our school upgraded buildings to make them physically accessible with ramps, automatic doors and elevators. In 1986, when I started experiencing symptoms of MS (fatigue, numbness and motor deficiencies), I was able to continue my work as health center professor, teacher and researcher due to accommodations made by my University.
When I partially retired in 2006, I followed my wife and her career to the Washington, D.C., area. It was an ideal choice because of all the great work that had been done locally to enforce the ADA and provide accessibility. Early activists in the area lobbied federal and state agencies and legislatures and protested against inaccessible entities, leading to accommodations that today, permit me and many others with disabilities to have a better quality of life and be productive members of the community. Using those activists as inspiration, I am proud to call myself an MS activist who participates in the Society’s Virginia Government Relations Committee. I get to work with other MS activists to help Virginia legislators as well as federal law makers understand the needs of the disability community. We visit our local representatives at their homes and also visit their offices in Richmond and on Capitol Hill.
For the last five years, I have been a member of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) Accessibility Advisory Committee. We are a group of people with disabilities from the jurisdictions served by the WMATA--Maryland, D.C., and Virginia--who work with WMATA staff to advise the WMATA Board on issues that directly impact the elderly and disability ridership. We have been successfully involved in making the D.C. metropolitan area bus/rail system more accessible through input on the design of the new 7000 Series Rail cars which will join the fleet in 2014. We have also been active in improving lighting, signage, elevator availability and full implementation of “bumpy domes” (tactile strips) which help guide people who are blind or visually impaired at all rail stations. As new metro lines are developed, we will monitor their development and accessibility as well as new fare gates and fare media. We are working with WMATA and their jurisdictions to improve bus stop accessibility and have been instrumental in transitioning to new contractors for MetroAccess paratransit.
Through my role on WMATA’s Accessibility Advisory Committee, I see that though we have come a long way in making public transportation accessible, there is still work to be done to ensure that all people with disabilities have meaningful access to their communities and are able to live independent, full lives. On this anniversary of the ADA, I am thankful for the groundwork it has laid and am committed to continuing as an MS activist to ensure the ADA’s promise is fulfilled.
Phil Posner, PhD
Phil is a retired health center professor. He started his career in Brooklyn and worked his way around academia from there to UCSF, Stanford, U. of Fla, Oxford, Auburn and FSU. He currently does part time consulting with Oak Ridge Associated Universities as well as the FDA, DOD and HHS. Phil and his wife live in Virginia where he volunteers with the local MS Society chapter and the regional transit system for accessibility.