Crosswalks to Civil Rights

Editor’s note: Continuing with our independence and advocacy themes in celebration of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), VisionAware peer advisors Mary Hiland, and Elizabeth Sammons were co-winners of the ADA25 Celebration Essay Contest in Columbus, Ohio. Below is Mary’s essay. Here is a link to Elizabeth’s post Independence Walk.

mary walking with dog guide

Life Before ADA

In 1963, Crossing the street was a terrifying event. Unsure if the light had changed, as a blind student, I waited on the curb, drew a deep breath, and took my chances. Audible pedestrian signals had not been invented, and paratransit was unheard of. The concept of services for students with disabilities would evolve long after I had graduated. Life as a blind student was a constant challenge.

Now I ponder the impact that the Americans with Disabilities Act has had on my life as I wait for the light to change and cross the street into my present life.

I’m on my way to work. I use a computer with a screen-reader that allows me to perform my tasks as efficiently as my sighted co-workers. The elevators in my building are marked with braille. Our restrooms have accessible stalls. Parking spots near the front door of the building are designated for use by those whose disabilities prevent their walking any distance.

person who is blind with hands on ATM keyboard

On my lunch hour, I use an ATM to get some cash. Now, because all ATM’s are fully accessible with audio output, nobody else has to know my business. When we get to the restaurant, I’m offered a braille menu. These days, I am never refused entrance to a restaurant with my guide dog. This was not always the case, before the passage of the ADA. Sadly, many cab drivers deny potential passengers with guide dogs. But the ADA puts teeth into the law that anywhere the public is allowed, so also are service animals.

Tonight, after paying some bills, using the brailled utility and credit card statements, I’m going to see a movie. Many theaters are now equipped with technology for bringing audio description to movie patrons who are blind, and closed caption for those who are deaf. The ADA has brought empowerment for the civil rights of Americans with disabilities, from being able to cross a street safely to being able to fully participate in social activities.

The ADA sets a standard for assuring civil rights that once were considered a dream. Making accessible everything from restrooms to text books to TV programs is now a reality. What once were considered special services are now our civil rights.

Crossing the Street is No Longer Terrifying

Today, crossing the street is no longer a terrifying event. I push a button on a pole which houses the audible pedestrian signal. Then my dog guide and I head to the edge of the street that no longer has a curb. Tactile warning bumps in the pavement tell me that I am lined up for the crosswalk. Thanks to the ADA, this corner can now be crossed easily by a person in a wheelchair. More importantly to me as a blind person, I am confident I’m standing in the right spot. Now a clear and loud voice announces, “Walk sign is on,” and I give my dog the command to go forward into an even brighter future.