Americans with Disabilities Act anniversary touts triumphs, still more to do

Jul 23, 2013

Advocates for the disabled in Syracuse are marking the 23rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but activists say there are still some areas where progress needs to be made.

Hundreds of disabled central New Yorkers walked, rolled or were pushed along the streets of downtown Syracuse Monday, to applaud the civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination based on disability. Things have changed dramatically in the past two decades notes Syracuse University professor Wendy Harbour, who as a deaf student when the law was passed, couldn't get funding for an interpreter. But she adds there is still room for improvement, describing her grad school experience in 2005.

"When I was in graduate school, I had professors who wouldn't call on me because they didn't think a deaf person should be in grad school," Harbour said. "I had professors turn the lights out so I couldn't see my interpreters, and I had the university tell me they wouldn't give me interpreters because I could speak, so I wasn't clearly deaf. So there's a long way to go."  

Harbour says there is still underrepresentation of people with disabilities in post-secondary education. She adds that the only provisions that haven't been funded in the Higher Education Act are the ones related to college students with disabilities. Harbour also says there needs to be more access to college for this population.

"We still have problems of school children being segregated in public schools," Harbour said. "We have issues with adults with disabilities who think they need to either go to a nursing home or die, because of a lack of services."

Harbour also worries about government funding cuts that she believes often hit mental health services first.