The 22nd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was celebrated at a White House ceremony Thursday with a few special guests brought by Autism Speaks – Adam Berman, a young adult and educator with autism, and Lennie Gladstone, whose son is severely affected with autism.
In a Presidential Proclamation marking the anniversary, President Obama called the ADA “a historic piece of civil rights legislation that affirmed Americans with disabilities are Americans first” and noted that the U.S. was the first nation to declare equality for its citizens with disabilities. Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Obama, met with Adam and wrote about the event in a White House blog.
Lennie Gladstone is the mother of Scott, age 23, who has autism. Lennie is the admissions specialist and board liaison at the Ivymount School in Rockville, Maryland and president of the board of directors for SEEC, a supported employment and inclusive living organization based in Silver Spring, Maryland.
Adam and Lennie offer their impressions below.
Twenty two years ago the Americans with Disabilities Act was put into law. As a young child with autism in the pre-ADA days, no professional who diagnosed me foresaw the efforts that our society as a whole would take to include people with disabilities. Accessible ramps for people in wheelchairs or closed captioning on TV sets was considered ludicrous and a luxury no one could afford.
On July 26, 2012, we celebrated the opportunities afforded to people with disabilities by the ADA and discussed the potential for an even brighter future. The White House panel put forth ambitious projects to improve the lives of people with disabilities that ranged from special evacuation procedures to special communication devices for people who are blind/deaf. After the panel discussed its projects, audience members asked questions. Again, the inclusion of people with disabilities shows how beneficial the ADA has been. People with visual impairments, intellectual disabilities, physical disabilities, and autism were able to ask poignant questions of the panel. As an educator and as a person with autism, I asked the panel what is being done to address the bullying that many students with disabilities face in our schools. Bullying is still a huge problem in the schools as no tracking is done for bullying incidents and many students change to more restrictive environments due to constant harassment. For inclusion of students with disabilities to be successful, bullying must be prevented. Students with disabilities should not be punished by changing placements due to someone else’s intolerance.
Perhaps this is a microcosm of where the inclusion of people with disabilities is at: a lot of success in placing people into mainstream society but not with the complete supports that would enhance and add meaning to the inclusion experience.
After the panel discussion, I met some of the panel and Valerie Jarrett. Having their full attention as I delved into my personal experiences as a teacher and person with autism showed me that many in our government are still working on ways to improve the lives of people with disabilities. I left the celebration knowing that the many questions facing people with disabilities are being explored by policy makers and professionals who intend on finding comprehensive answers with the assistance of those who are the most important stakeholders.
Adam will be a teacher in the Prince George’s County (MD) school system in the fall.
This morning I was invited by the folks at Autism Speaks to attend the presentation for the 22ndAnniversary of the ADA at the White House. (Okay, so it was really in the Executive Office Building, but I thought it might be a nice thing to go to, just because I had never been in that building.)
The presentation was given in the form of a panel discussion by representatives from the departments of health and human services, education and transportation, the Federal Emergency Management Administration, and the Federal Communications Commission. All touted their good work over the last couple of years and upcoming projects. All were inspiring, but several points stand out.
Much to my surprise, when the discussion moved to employment and the successes that this administration has seen, Kareem Dale, Special Assistant to the President on Disability Policy, spoke specifically about the Project Search Programs and their success opening doors to young adults with disabilities to federal jobs. It was so gratifying to hear that the hard work done by those at Ivymount, SEEC and NIH and Project Search Teams being discussed at this very high level.
The keynote speaker, Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to the President for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, spoke about President Obama’s commitment to persons with disabilities. She spoke about the Affordable Care Act and its effects to HHS, and in turn to thosewith disabilities via Medicare.
I was touched when Stuart Spielman, senior policy advisor and counsel at Autism Speaks, Adam Berman and I got to speak with Ms. Jarrett. She shared with us that while a Stanford University undergrad psychology major, she had worked with children utilizing behavior modification. She spoke knowingly about ABA and Adam related how his parents had set up a home ABA program; it was this early intervention that allowed him to progress.
To be hearing about and discussing both Project Search and ABA at the White House was incredibly exciting and gratifying for me. We go to so many of these kinds of presentations that are full of formality and verbosity. Today I was really pleased to hear about impact of the work of the people that I work with everyday getting the high level recognition, if not personally, at least programmatically.