20 Years Later: The Americans with Disabilities Act

Has the Americans with Disabilities Act made a difference in peoples' lives? Ben Mattlin, born with spinal muscular atrophy, describes how it impacted him.

In July, countless groups in the special needs community observed the twentieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The many commemorations made me think about my dad. By the time the act was passed, he’d been in a wheelchair 31 years. He’d spent many of those years unable to cross the street because of sidewalk curbs, unable to work because jobs weren’t modified for people like him back then, unable to enter the library or city hall because of steps. Though he lived for 6 years after the law’s passage, by then he was confined to a nursing home and rarely benefited from it.

Ben Mattlin and the Americans with Disabilities Act

Dad’s life could have been very different if the act had been in place when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1959. But it wasn’t and there’s no sense wishing for what could have been. Besides many stories of lives changed because of the act do exist. Ben Mattlin’s is one of them.

Ben was born with spinal muscular atrophy, a condition which leaves him too weak to scratch an itch. In a recent NPR commentary, he told how the Americans with Disabilities Act did to change his life, and also what it didn’t do. You can read the article, print out a transcript, and listen to the audio version at Looking Back at 20 Years of Disability Rights.

Visit Ben’s Blog

To learn more about Ben, visit benmattlin.blogspot.com. These days, he’s running a series from his memoirs called Miracle Boy. In the August 7 installment, he describes how his mom and the school arrange to handle his bathroom needs as a seven-year-old. Not an easy task in the days before 504b plans. The story reminded me of Dad’s urinal, discreetly hidden in an old leather shaving bag, which we kids carried around for him when he could still get out and about.

Ahh, the good old days weren’t all that good after all. These days, the Americans with Disabilities Act days, are better. Though as Ben said, much remains to be done. And we’re the ones who have to do it.

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Meet Jolene

Jolene Philo is a published author, speaker, wife, and mother of a son with special needs.



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