People with Disabilities

University of Illinois professor Meghan Burke has a lot of experience in assessing restaurants for accessibility. Her son was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at two, and she also teaches classes on physical disabilities and assistive technology. With the help of her students, she has launched a website to help would-be patrons take the guesswork out of deciding where to go based on the space’s accessibility. The website, Access Urbana-Champaign, rates restaurants on their accessibility based on features like sufficient knee clearance under sinks and tables and alarms that can be heard as well as seen

The enormity of the Eiffel Tower and the jaw-dropping tiling of the Taj Mahal make most tourists dumbstruck with awe. But what happens if you can’t see them? Visually impaired tourists are now getting a small taste of the experience of seeing these man-made marvels, thanks to strategically placed scale models. The models are usually made of bronze and sometimes include information about the depicted monument in Braille. One of the most productive model creators, Egbert Broerken, can count over 100 models of European architecture to his name. 

adeline Delp, former Ms. Wheelchair USA, was terrified to put herself out in the spotlight the first time she participated in a beauty pageant. “It was one of the most difficult and uncomfortable experiences that I’ve ever had,” she wrote in a story for Glamour magazine. However, determined to show the world that all women, able-bodied or not, are beautiful, she continued to compete and recently placed in the top 15 in her latest Miss Carolina USA competition. She’s now focused on winning the top crown of Miss USA. Madeline informed People magazine of her grand plans, stating “Is Miss USA ready for someone in a wheelchair? I believe so… maybe they won’t get it this year, but I certainly hope that is a barrier broken soon.”

 

Johnathan Pinkard is a 27-year-old high functioning man with autism who also happened to need a new heart. Lori Wood, a nurse at Piedmont Newnan Hospital in Georgia, had no idea Johnathan even existed before he collapsed at work and was rushed to her hospital. After learning that Johnathan was not eligible for a heart transplant (he did not have anyone to care for him afterwards, which is one criteria for eligibility), it took Lori just two days to decide to legally adopt him and to care for him post-surgery. "I had to help him. It was a no-brainer...He would have died without the transplant," she said simply. 

Adaptive Action Sports is not sitting on the sidelines when it comes to helping athletes with disabilities improve at their game. Executive Director and Co-Founder Daniel Gale is proud to offer camps and training for athletes interested in stand-up paddle boarding, snowboarding, mountain biking, and skateboarding. Zach Miller, a 20-year-old para snowboarder with cerebral palsy, has been training with Adaptive Action Sports for six months. His goal is to compete in the 2022 Beijing Winter Games. Gale is proud of all the athletes who train at the non-profit, including Zach. “My goal with all of the athletes is to really, genuinely improve quality of life. If we can do that through putting them on the U.S. team, that’s awesome,” he said.

Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke has a sister with an intellectual disability, Erin,  who inspired him to come up with a robust disability plan intended to address shortfalls in inclusive standards across the United States. Two mainstays of his plan include changes to the Affordable Care Act to ensure people have access to medical equipment like wheelchairs and canes when they need them (as well as the resources to maintain them), and modifications to the Air Carrier Access Act that would give the option to people who believe they have been discriminated against to pursue legal action. In a recent tweet he noted “...For too long, we have overlooked people with disabilities. That must change.”

Domino’s Pizza has been embroiled in litigation for well over three years against plaintiff Guillermo Robles, who alleges its website and app make it impossible for a person using a screenreader to order a pizza online. After the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld its ruling in favor of Robles (that the ADA does in fact apply to websites) in January, Domino’s petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case. On Monday the Supreme Court decided not to hear it, and did not supply any comments or dissent to justify the rejection. In it of itself, this is not a tacit approval of the Ninth Circuit’s decision, but the rejection does imply to US companies that are fighting digital accessibility lawsuits that the ADA will continue to apply to digital properties and content for the foreseeable future.

 

Becoming paralyzed from the waist down at 23 after a diving accident was a turning point in Marca Bristo's life. After seeing how patients with disabilities were treated at the hospital where she worked, she became an advocate for them, fighting for equal rights across multiple platforms. She helped co-found Access Living, a non profit organization that helps people with disabilities maintain independence, and led it for many years. She also joined other disability rights leaders to help pen the ADA, and Bill Clinton even appointed her chair of the National Council on Disability, a role she held for eight years. She succumbed to cancer at age 66 on Sunday, August 31.  

Brent Lowe is no stranger to difficult personal situations. He’s blind, and has lived for years alone with his 24-year-old son (who has cerebral palsy) and a caretaker on Abaco in the Bahamas. Recently, however, Hurricane Dorian made his life exponentially harder. After its fierce winds ripped off the roof of the house where they were hunkering down, Lowe knew he had to get himself and his son out of their house, or risk death. As soon as he stepped off his front porch he found himself chin-deep in water. He had no choice but to put his son over his shoulder and carry him to a neighbor’s house to wait out the storm. Lowe was evacuated to Nassau while his son stayed on Abaco with a family member. With his house gone, Lowe is understandably devastated. "We need a place to go," he said. "I don't know exactly what we are going to do. We need help."

 

With people with disabilities representing a tiny minority in public office, others who may want to run are hard-pressed to find help in this arena. However, one non-profit, the National Council on Independent Living, prides itself on being one of the only resources for people with disabilities to get answers to their tough campaign questions. It recently launched the nonpartisan Elevate Campaign Training program, which specifically caters to people with disabilities who are interested in pursuing public service positions. This new online-only initiative offers webinars so people all over the country can watch and learn about topics as diverse as fundraising, campaign online strategy, operations, and messaging.

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