Guest Post From Jesse the K: 20 Years and a Day for the Americans with Disabilities Act

Jesse the K hopes you can take a disabled feminist to tea this month.

I’d hoped to have a delicious thinky post about the difference 20 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act has made for the world, the nation, the state, and me. Meditating on those topics proved so depressing I didn’t even leave the house yesterday. Ha! Depression is the gift that keeps on stepping on my toes.

So: the ADA and what it enabled today. In my zippity, comfortable power chair I zoomed to a “regular” bus stop and thence to my accessible health club where I swam for 40 minutes. I used half of the seated showers (what the staff insist on calling the “handicapped stalls.”) Most of the people I encountered treated me respectfully and without patronizing me. I saw at least 10 other people whose impairments were readily evident to me. Another bus to the next stop. I had no worries about crossing a six-lane 45mph road because my chair goes fast enough (but not, alas 45mph). There were curb ramps which almost met ADA specs almost all the places there should have been — the speedy chair simplifies crossing the street via driveways when necessary. I stopped in three stores during these errands. At one store the counterperson dramatically jumped back and performed the Vanna White maneuver to demonstrate that there was room to move in the shop. (Oh really?) The other stores gave me exactly the same attention as the evidently enabled* people who entered at the same time.

OK, that’s all about assistive technology, and there’s more AT-related items I could enumerate (built-in enlarging features in apps and OS simplify computer use; cordless phones; I’m stopping now).

The biggest change has not been in my body but in my perspective. In the late 80s, I’d been educating myself on social-model, disability-rights reading, but my impairments were not yet evident to others. That disabled people’s rights had been enshrined in law was hugely important to me. That the ADA used “mental illness” as an example finally tipped me into considering therapy.

So, thanks for my life, ADA: many mundane things, and a few great big ones.

The law is not enough; as Cal Montgomery taught me:

Discrimination is always illegal; only activism makes it unwise.

So thanks to these real-world colleagues and teachers, who enabled me to learn advocacy:

  • Caryn Navy, who was infinitely patient with my AB privilege, remade a corner of the world at Raised Dot Computing, and demonstrated dignity through snark
  • Chris Kingslow, who taught me that mental illness isn’t the end of the world
  • Catherine Odette, who published Dykes Disabilities & Stuff, founded Able Lives Theater, and gave me permission to take as long as it takes
  • Cal Montgomery, who decoded the disability studies stuff I couldn’t follow, made me laugh, and taught me that there is dignity in “behavior management,” as well as potential for abuse
  • Mike O’Connor, who held my hand while I took my first steps into the public square
  • Fayth Kail, who cranked open many minds as she served as an Assembly page in the state legislature while also campaigning for abortion rights, reminding me that advocacy has a life cycle

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