Access has improved since
the Americans With Disabilities
By KEITH BROWN • and BILL BOWMAN •
(STAFF PHOTO: BRADLEY J.
years ago, Stanley Soden likely found that some
of the activities most take for granted were at
best troublesome, if not nearly impossible.
Going to the beach? Nearly out of the question. Grabbing a cup of coffee at a local diner? Not likely. Attending a baseball game? Possibly, but with a good deal of extra planning.
That was before the Americans With Disabilities Act — a civil rights act for people with disabilities that mandates equal opportunity in employment, accommodations, transportation and several other areas — which was signed into law 20 years ago Monday.
Soden, who uses a wheelchair, is a director for a Long Branch-based support organization for people with disabilities. He said the passage of the
"It has given me access to the beaches, to the restaurants and places that 20 years ago I would have never had access to," said Soden, who is a director of independent living services at MOCEANS. "The access to me is far greater than it ever has been."
The act has not proved to be a panacea for those living with disabilities, experts said. But the
S. Census Bureau. In
public entities and public accommodations. It makes illegal any discrimination based on disability in hiring or firing of employees, by any level of government or transportation run by any government, or in any public accommodation.
One of the definitions of "discrimination" includes architectural barriers to allow entry and accessibility by those with disabilities. All buildings constructed after 1992 — the effective date of the
"As far as physical accessibility goes, there have been great strides," said Sue Pniewski, a transition
and independent living specialist at MOCEAN's
One of those places is the Americana Diner on Route 35 in
"Before we had no handicapped access," Louzakos said. "We put in wider doors — from bathrooms to even a dining room door that opens out — the whole nine yards."
There has been a logical increase in the number of people with disabilities who now frequent the place, he said. "I have a lot. It makes me feel good," Louzakos said. "And they repeat. That's what I like."
But much still needs to be done to fully integrate people with disabilities, experts say, both in terms of building access and other activities of daily living.
Schwebel is chair of the Middletown Human Rights Coalition and has initiated lawsuits against
"It really isn't," Schwebel said. "The Americana Diner has a ramp. Oftentimes when I'm there I'll see at least five people with disabilities. They get a lot of money out of it because we go there often."
Unemployment, which is currently high for the general population, also is a chronic problem for those with disabilities.
"The idea should not be for people with disabilities to collect Social Security and not work and not contribute to their communities when they are perfectly capable and want to," Pniewski said.
Pniewski said that society's perception, or misconception, of people with disabilities that represents the biggest barrier.
"We still have this attitude toward people with disabilities — "oh, poor thing.' Even in our language, like "wheelchair-bound," or that sort of thing, rather than seeing a wheelchair as a measure of freedom."
Employers such as the Lakewood BlueClaws, however, are trying to change that. The minor league baseball team partners with the LADACIN Network (formerly Cerebral Palsy of Monmouth and
"This is not a job opportunity where we stick them in the back," DeAngelis said. "They're on the front lines as greeters, ticket takers and ushers. They also work in our concession stand."
Ryan Reilly, coordinator of the Office for Individuals with Disabilities for
"I'm very hopeful for the future, with the knowledge getting out there, the info being spread and the general public getting to understand more of what the disability community can do, there's great hopes the future will keep progressing forward."
Keith Brown: 732-643-4076 or firstname.lastname@example.org