The other day I was talking with some friends. I realize we are a part of the first generation of people with disabilities to grow up with the ADA acts of 1973 and 1990. That meant we were the first generation to be acknowledged and have the right to be in the community entirely. We had the laws that said we had the right to have the same education as others. We had the right to be in public places like everyone else with accessibility that meets people with disability needs.
When you are part of something so revolutionary, it brings a sense of pride. When I was part of this change, I was very young. I spent most of my childhood right in the center of something new for the country. I was born in the late ’70s and grew up in the ‘80S and ’90s. I was trying to be a “NORMAL” kid, but knowing that I had to fight to be with my peers was something truly memorable; I didn’t truly understand what was going on. I was in the middle of some things that were landmarking. The community around me was having a hard time accepting changes in the world. I was one of the millions of pioneers, and all I wanted was to be a “NORMAL” kid doing “NORMAL” things. (I shouldn’t have been trying to prove myself.) I should have been more worried about what kid would invite me to their birthday party or whose kickball team I would be on.
I was the only pioneer in my small town. Being in school in the mid’80s was a challenge for two reasons 1) the federal laws were there, but yet they weren’t being enforced, and 2) when they were being enforced, the educators that had been teaching forever weren’t willing to change as quickly. Then there was the fact that as much as I had the right to education in these places, it wasn’t until July of 1990 that president Bush SR. passed the ADA ACT of 1990, all federal and public buildings had to be ADA compliant. Under the ADA ACT of 1990, all public buildings had to have accessible access for those with physical disabilities. The ADA ACT of 1990 includes public transportation, inside and outside the public and federal buildings. I could now easily access getting in the parking spaces with handicapped parking. I could get up and down sidewalks with curbs cut off. None of these changes came easily. My parents had to be diligent and fight with the town. They had to contact the OFFICE OF CIVIL RIGHTS to get the town in compliance.
When you are one of the only ones different from the rest, worrying about whose birthday party you might be invited to or what kickball team you’re on was the least of the issues. For me, it was all about whether the building would be accessible. Are the teachers going to accept me in their classrooms, or will I be accepted in the lunchroom because it was hard for me to eat without choking and closing my month? It wasn’t just the school building I was worried about going in; other public places like birthday parties, field trips, and school dances. Luckily, I did get to do all this stuff, and my peers accepted me for the most part.
It wasn’t so much that I would get bullied by my peers ( and I got bullied by my peers), but I was just that kind of kid that didn’t take much crap. Yet I knew how to give it back just as good if not better. What bugged me the most were those years from 13 to 17. However, when educators bully you, you are on a different level than when your peers do the bullying. When it came to getting bullied by your peers at such a young age, they didn’t know better. It was not suitable for educators to treat students the way they did. But, there has to be a learning curve for this period. All at once, these laws were here. However, here are these new laws. Then, on the other hand, we have teachers that have been teaching one way for many years. All of a sudden, these laws wanted them to change all at once. Yes, it was a shame these full-grown adults couldn’t adjust to welcome all children. It should have been that if these adults had any compassion, I wouldn’t have half the problems I had during my early school years.
When I moved to junior high school, the school year opening had to be held back because there was no elevator. Again, I felt like I wasn’t a normal kid because I was holding back the start of the school year. After all, the elevator wasn’t ready for the school year. After all, Junior high school was hard for any kid, but being the only kid with a physical disability made it more complicated for kids. These were the years when kids started making clicks, having relationships, having parties, going to dances, etc. Junior high was my less favorite year. Not that kids hated me because they saw me as one of them for the most part, and we were friendly. When everyone started, set in clicks. Yea, I had my clicks, but I was seen as the friend/sister to the boys. I was a friend/sister to the boy, but I felt intimidated by the girls because I never felt like one because of my disability.
As much as high school was challenging, it was different from junior high school. It was the mid-’90s, and all the laws were being used more by now. Unfortunately, I still had to educate the educators about the ADA laws.
Thinking back on all this and fully realizing what my life was like during these times, I’m am a true pioneer. I remember thinking at that time, feeling like I was making trouble for this town, not realizing I was paving the way for the next generation of children/adults with disabilities that came through the town.