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Roll a Mile in My Wheelchair - ADA Turns 20

July 31, 2009

PORTLAND, Ore. - When city leaders in Bend spent a day in wheelchairs recently, they got a whole new perspective on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) - and advocates for Oregonians with disabilities wish more people would try it.

As the ADA begins its twentieth year this week, many assume that - because there is such a long-standing law - equal access problems have been taken care of. Not so, in Oregon or elsewhere, says Bob Joondeph, executive director of Disability Rights Oregon. Most people still don't see everyday tasks and places from the point of view of someone who has trouble negotiating them, he says.

"Our society is just not, in many ways, constructed to allow for people who may be using a wheelchair or crutches, or have problems with their hearing or vision, to be able to use all of the aspects of society that we take for granted."

The Oregon Legislature updated the state law this year, matching changes passed by Congress to broaden the disability definitions. Joondeph points out that a state law is necessary because it fills in some places the federal law doesn't cover, such as businesses with fewer than 18 employees. And both laws, he says, are designed to protect civil rights.

"Oh, it is a civil rights law because, just like any minority group, folks with disabilities have unfortunately been excluded from all sorts of aspects of society, for years."

Joondeph says his organization still receives plenty of questions and complaints about access to all types of buildings, as well as fair treatment in housing and at workplaces. Many of the issues could be resolved through better communication, he notes.

More information is available online, at www.DisabilityRightsOR.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR