By Abigail Tessmann, Bethesda Lutheran Communities
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was created to ensure equality for individuals' with disabilities. I personally have a mild cognitive disability called Cerebral Palsy. While this affects my fine motor skills as well as my mobility/walking abilities, my disability does not stop me from accomplishing my daily tasks. Over the years, the ADA has helped me overcome issues dealing with employment, transportation, and self-advocacy. However, there are challenges that the ADA has not addressed.
I became a disability advocate from a very young age, around the time when people started doubting my capabilities. Most people don’t know what my capabilities really are. Over time, I have been known for writing my own speeches to advocate on behalf of people with disabilities and senior citizens; and from a bird’s eye view, I know my independence level has increased as well. Despite having a disability, I am able to accomplish just as much as everyone else, but with a twist to accommodate my needs at times.
Over the years, I have seen improvements in transportation and employment outcomes specifically for people with disabilities and senior citizens. Even though transportation outcomes have improved, as independent as I am with navigating the city metro –systems, I face barriers every day. My transportation barriers are battling with the cost, safety, time spent on commuting, and walking hazards. In the past 25 years, accommodation vehicle companies have been concocted for people with disabilities and senior citizens. In the next 25 years, I would like to see those specialized accommodation vehicle companies become accessible to the general public.
Employment outcomes are just as important. From my perspective, people with disabilities are willing to put in 5 times more effort, ask questions, show up for work on time, and able to accomplish any task given as long as they put their minds to it. For most individuals on a job for the first time, they may need more positive encouragement and reinforcements to get the job done. In the next 25 years, I hope the possibilities for people with disabilities working in the community continues to broaden.
Wisconsin Partners in Policymaking is a six-session advocacy and training program hosted by the Wisconsin Board for People with Developmental Disabilities (BPDD). On my last day I was asked to discuss what the program meant to me. I stated how I have seen myself realize that I now can relate to people as partners. I now see other advocacy/ disability leaders more as brothers and sisters, and learned to build family/friend relationships in a work setting among my networks. Getting connected among disability friendly groups and knowing they support you for who you are as opposed to just getting to know them and trying to figure out if they are going to have my back or not as far as fighting for what I know is right.
My vision for 25 years from now is to see more people with disabilities working independently and living their dream. I believe there is work that still is needed to be done. The challenges that occur today for people with disabilities are limited attendance in institutions of higher education, limited natural supports, their independence is greatly restricted, and finally, limited autonomy. Together as a team, we can provide individuals’ with disabilities a more independent lifestyle that meets and satisfies their expectations.
North Central Advocacy Mentor
Bethesda Lutheran Communities