How the Americans With Disabilities Act Changed My Life!

This is the first article of a weekly series written by Kalari, a writer, athlete, mother and employee of The Chicago Lighthouse who is visually impaired. She shares her perspective on a variety of topics in order to build community.

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It has been 30 years since the landmark legislation of the Americans With Disabilities Act has passed and it has profoundly affected my life. I feel that all of us in the disabled community are thankful for this legislation, as it has improved our lives significantly in many ways.

I was six years-old when the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law. I did not know then what affect this would have on my life, but I can say now that it has absolutely transformed it.  When it comes to traveling, I can navigate the city independently thanks to the ADA. There are now textured truncated domes on the sidewalk which help me know when I reach a cross walk. I also find it helpful to have talking intersections that help me to cross the street safely.  I can go to the movies and have audio description headphones, which allows me to enjoy the film with my sighted counterparts. In the past, I would have to have someone describe the movie to me, which made attending the movies burdensome. I never wanted to feel as if I was a burden on my friends, family or significant other because they must describe the movie to me. I also love that I can go to a restaurant and I have the option of reading a braille menu. Like the movies, I never want to feel as if someone must do extra things for me all to enjoy my time out.  This law has made it possible to be not only independent in traveling but in other areas of my life. This legislation has made society more inclusive of people with disabilities. I am extremely grateful for this, but one area of life in which we must make further progress is employment.

I am a person that has always believed in the American dream. The American dream is the idea that if you go to school, get good grades, and graduate from college, you will gain meaningful employment. This is true for most Americans, but when you have a disability, this dream feels further out of reach. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019 only 19.3 percent of people with disabilities were employed, compared to 66.3 percent of people without disabilities. This statistic is even hirer with people who are legally blind like myself. According to the National Federation of the Blind, more than 60 percent of the blind population is unemployed. This number is extremely high and for a while I was part of this statistic. It was not until The Chicago Lighthouse took a chance on me that I became employed full-time. Many other people who are legally blind are not as fortunate.

Kalari works as a Writer and Marketing Specialist at The Chicago Lighthouse
Kalari works as a Writer and Marketing Specialist at
The Chicago Lighthouse

This is unacceptable, as members of this community want to work and contribute to society. I know personally that people who are blind are among the most loyal, dependable, and hardest working individuals a company can have, but unfortunately many refuse to take a chance on this community. This is true even today, 30 years after the passage of the ADA. From my own experience, I know that when you walk into the interview room as someone who is blind, you are running against preconceived notions and biases. I remember on several occasions how I would explain to my interviewer that I already have my own adaptive software needed to perform a job, and that I just need the opportunity to show that I am a strong worker. Many times, we do not get this opportunity and despite how many degrees we may have, we are still overlooked for positions.

With that being said, I am very thankful for the ADA, but we still need to make progress in the area of employment. We must keep trying and advocating for our communities. I am enthusiastic about what the ADA has accomplished, but there is still more work to be done. I challenge all employers, who may read this article, to have an open mind and take more chances on people with disabilities.  People with disabilities are the hardest working group of people one can find, and if employers take more chances on this group, I am confident that hidden gems  will be revealed. I promise that you will not be disappointed.  How has the ADA affected your life personally? I would love to hear your stories!

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