After 15 years, persons with disabilities still face social challenges
More than 60 percent of disabled persons in the United States are unemployed. Young children with learning disabilities aren't receiving badly needed special education services. And many buildings, including the McDonald's at the corner of Losoya and Commerce streets, remain inaccessible to people with mobility impairments.
But that didn't stop many of San Antonio's disabled from gathering in front of Mi Tierra restaurant at El Mercado July 29 to walk, stroll, and roll through downtown to the La Villita Assembly Hall to celebrate the 15th anniversary of President George H.W. Bush's signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 29, 1990.
|Barry Muth recited the history of the Americans with Disabilities Act and recounted his trek to Mount Everest where he endured the hardship of climbing to a base camp for mountain climbers. Muth says he will try to organize a trip to the North Pole for his next adventure. (Photo by Melissa Santos)|
The ADA was landmark, comprehensive legislation aimed at protecting the civil rights of disabled people. Since its passage, 27 countries have adopted similar legislation.
"Those of us who are gathered here at Market Square today represent thousands of other San Antonians with disabilities," said Larry Johnson, board member of San Antonio Independent Living Services. He read his speech from pages that were printed in braille. "Disabled people are people with limitations. These limitations present barriers, obstacles to the achievement or accomplishment of our goals. We must, each of us, play a role in removing those barriers."
Johnson said persons with disabilities are "poets, lawyers, writers, musicians, architects, teachers, salesmen, secretaries, managers, computer programmers, artists, printers, and accountants. Each of us, in his or her own way, possesses a reservoir of creative potential. And it is from this vast resource of human energy and creativity that change and progress will inevitably come."
Elyse Dubroff attended the kickoff ceremony with her service dog, Cody. She brought her wheelchair along, but instead of riding it, she was pushing the pet that showed up on her doorstep 14 years ago.
In September 1994, agoraphobia (fear related to open spaces) overtook Dubroff, and forced her to leave her career as an accountant. "I was driving on the freeway, and suddenly I thought I would pass out. Later I couldn't work, and I couldn't leave the house."
Cody underwent training to become Dubroff's service dog. And with Cody riding shotgun, Dubroff made the trek from El Mercado to La Villita, where people with disabilities, their friends, family, and local vendors gathered to celebrate the anniversary.
Keynote speaker Barry Muth was a major in the U.S. Army when a rollover accident in 1999 in Saudi Arabia left him an "incomplete quadriplegic." He didn't stay home and mope about the tragic turn in his life. He joined the Paralyzed Veterans of America and other groups, and became active in numerous sports activities including downhill skiing and rugby, or murderball, as some call the sport.
Muth spoke Friday of his journey with a group from the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities to the Mount Everest base camp in Tibet. Muth was one of four wheelchair-bound coalition members who made it to the base camp, 17,600 feet above sea level.
"I boarded an aircraft, locked my brakes, and held onto the seat in front of me," Muth told the ADA celebrants last week as he showed slides of his trek to the tallest mountain in the world. "It was the most exciting trip I ever took. The locals wanted to know why people with disabilities wanted to do this. We said it was just to show it could be done. I told my son I wanted to be above the clouds without an airplane."
Persons with disabilities, Johnson concluded, "must accept the responsibility for our own selves, for our own lives, and for our circumstances ... as long as disabled people remain the world's most poorly represented large minority, we and the programs designed to help us will suffer the consequences." •
By Michael Cary