December 14, 2021
ADA: Celebrating Independence
The Oxford English Dictionary defines independence as “The freedom to organize your own life, make your own decisions, etc. without needing help from other people.”
This is the foundation of the Independent Living movement, which emphasizes that individuals with disabilities should be able to decide for themselves how to live, work, and take part in their communities. Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the barriers that keep people with disabilities from making these decisions continue to fall. As life becomes more accessible, individuals are able to create their own definition of “independence” as it relates specifically to their wants, needs, hopes, and dreams. This idea was the theme of The IC’s 2021 ADA Celebration.
The annual event commemorates the anniversary of the passage of the ADA, which was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990. It prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and guarantees that they have equal opportunity to participate in American life, including employment, access to goods and services, and the ability to take part in state and local government programs and services.
This year’s fully-accessible online event, which was streamed on YouTube, featured powerful stories from people with disabilities, including the barriers they’ve faced, how they’ve overcome them, and what the word “independence” means to them.
Patricia Yeager, CEO of The IC, was joined by Amelia Dall, a Deaf archaeologist; Jeremy Chatelain, educator and board member of The IC, who uses a wheelchair; and Stephanie Symonette, a writer and advocate with an invisible disability. (See “Telling Their Stories” below for more.) Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers also made a special appearance to give an update on the progress made in our city.
This year’s event, as well as previous ADA celebrations, can be viewed on The IC’s website at https://bit.ly/ada-event-vids.
Telling Their Stories
Amelia Dall is a Deaf archaeologist and the creator of a project called Amelia the Archaeologist. A graduate of Gallaudet University, Amelia specializes in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and has helped create ASL signs for archaeological terms used in the classroom and while working in the field on archaeological digs.
During her career, she hopes to uncover more information about Deaf people in ancient cultures. “I feel I have that obligation to work hard and find history of Deaf people over time, documenting it and recording it,” she said through an ASL interpreter.
For Amelia, independence means having a strong support system of the friends, family, and mentors who helped her make her dream a reality.
Stephanie Symonette is a writer and advocate who lives with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that she sustained because of a childhood fall and multiple car accidents as an adult. Because her disability isn’t visible, she has encountered judgment and impatience from others who don’t understand why she has memory and processing challenges.
Stephanie urges others to look for the commonalities we share, rather than the differences. She believes that independence means advocating not only for oneself but for others, especially those who may not be able to advocate for themselves.
“It’s taken me a while to know that I have that right to advocate for myself,” she said, “and if I speak up for needs that are not being met, that allows me to have more independence.”
As a young man, Jeremy Chatelain – who is a Board member with The IC – dove into shallow water, severing his spinal cord and leaving him with quadriplegia. Since then, he has encountered people who have either created additional barriers for him or helped take them down.
He related the story of a woman who had parked her car in an accessible spot and then claimed she “didn’t know people actually used these.” At the same time, the support and encouragement of many others has been instrumental in helping him live independently.
Part of that independence, he says, comes from making sure that “I get my wheelchair dirty.” And thanks to a new mobility chair called the TerrainHopper, he and his family now have new ways to fulfill that mission together.