ADA at 31: Meaningful changes continue

·3 min read

Jul. 23—Participants were treated to sunshine, free hamburgers, bags of groceries and even school supplies Thursday at a celebration of the 31st anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act, hosted by local nonprofit Disability Action Center Northwest in Moscow's Mountain View Park.

Organizers said the annual event takes place in a different location every year, with the exception of last year's celebration which was held remotely because of the pandemic.

Disability Action Center Executive Director Mark Leeper said in the years since its passage, the ADA and other efforts have come a long way in making meaningful changes to create an equitable landscape for people with disabilities, but that work is far from done.

He said in particular, society has a long way to go when it comes to creating fair access for people with sensory disabilities — especially as more and more resources and entertainment are shifted online.

"So many of the things that we do online now, that we've just come to expect, didn't exist when the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed and signed on July 26 1990," Leeper said. "We didn't imagine there'd be a Netflix or Amazon Prime and so all of these things have created huge challenges."

Thursday's affair had the feel of a community cookout, with Disability Action Center employees working the grill and a variety of other nonprofit organizations hosting kiosks. Visiting organizations offered educational materials about services available to people with disabilities, as well as items like free groceries, school supplies and even toy kites. There was also a pop-up vaccination clinic hosted by CHAS Health that saw little activity.

Jami Davis, program specialist with the Idaho State Independent Living Council, said she drove up from Boise with a trove of new pencil cases, crayons, child-sized backpacks and other items which she hopes will help defray back to school costs for struggling families. She said she made a point of bringing backpacks in a variety of colors and prints — including a few covered in images of sharks and unicorns — to give children something unique that can be truly theirs.

"It's a need that a lot of people are facing and sometimes there's the embarrassment that goes along with it. In the grand scheme of things, people worry about their food, shelter and transportation to work," Davis said. "School supplies cost so much money. I mean, even for kindergarten, they cost a ton of money and parents always feel bad if they can't give their child a new backpack and stuff."

During the celebration, the Pullman Community Garden at Koppel Farm was honored with the DAC's Tom McTevia Memorial Award for their efforts to build an ADA accessible gardening plot. This included creating van-accessible parking, an accessible portable restroom and a paved pathway to the plot, among other accommodations.

Pullman Community Gardens Coordinator Tim Paulitz said the project has been fully funded through donations and will be completed by the fall. He said the point of the project is to ensure all community members feel welcome in their space.

"The community garden is a community resource," he said. "We have a lot of pollinators, we're completely organic, so that preserves the habitat for butterflies and pollinators and everything, so it's really almost like a little nature refuge in the middle of Pullman."

In his remarks, Leeper said the ADA is not like a law or a building code that's enforced by a body like the police — its power comes from people making a difference at the grassroots level.

"It's a tool to help us all have better communities that serve all of us," he said.

Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to sjackson@dnews.com.

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