Editor’s Note: Ashley Eisenmenger is Public Relations Coordinator at Access Living and the editor of this blog. A blind woman, she speaks regularly to groups about topics such as perspective, adversity, performance, and disability. She has given a TEDx talk on accessibility and continues to advocate for the inclusion and integration of people with disabilities in the fitness world.
My boss told me this during my very first day at my first full-time job out of college — A job that took over a year to get and came after hundreds of applications and cover letters were written and sent, and very few interviews offered.
I had done all of the right things in college. I graduated with high honors. I was a varsity student athlete. I was involved with a variety of campus happenings knowing that all of this would make me a more desirable job candidate. There was a small part of me that hoped all my efforts and successes would mask a detail about me, a detail that ensures people judge me before I even walk into the room, before they ever speak to me.
That detail is my disability.
My boss’ stance on the ADA, that the ADA is a minimum standard not a gold one, was new to me. It has also completely altered my perception of who I am and what my disability identity means.
The ADA is one the most comprehensive civil rights laws in history. Passed 30 years ago, it affords people with disabilities the freedoms and rights we have today. I have had a disability my entire life; I grew up as a member of the “ADA Generation,” meaning that the law was passed long before I was born.
And yet I am no stranger to discrimination, false assumption, inaccessibility, and exclusion because of my disability. It was evident in my job search. I experienced it in my academic and athletic collegiate careers. I know that when people look at me, they pass judgement based the ‘challenges’ they assume I face.
The ADA is 30 years old this week, and there is much to celebrate. But for as much as there is to celebrate, there is just as much work to be done. My generation, and those that follow, have big shoes to fill. The foundation has been laid, the floor is set, and we must continue to build. We must continue to expect access and continue to fight for equity and inclusion. We must echo the cries of generations before us and start diverse movements or our own.
30 years from now, I want to look back and know with certainty that the ADA was just the beginning, that people are proud of their disability identities, that others truly see people with disabilities as assets.
We have done a lot to change physical access, attitudinal beliefs and behaviors. But there is a lot of room to grow, and like many others in my generation, I am excited and ready to be a part of that shift.