Vision, Reflection for a New and Better Normal After COVID & Vision of the Next 30 Years of the Americans With Disabilities Act

By Nicole LeBlanc

As we celebrate and reflect on 30 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act & 100 years of Vocational Rehabilitation during a national pandemic, it is especially important to use this downtime and crisis to dream of a new and better normal. One that is accessible, accommodating, and respects the intersectionality of all social justice movements. As Audrey Lorde once said, “ There is No Such Thing as Single Issue Struggle Because We Do Not Live Single Issue Lives.”

We are all impacted by all social justice movements, such as Climate Justice, Economic Justice, Migrant Justice, Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, Workers, and Disability Rights are all interconnected with one another. In times like these, the disability community must join forces with non-disability groups and give space for people of color, especially, to step up and lead the way in achieving the dream of a fully inclusive diverse world where everyone is respected for who they are. A world where no one is discriminated against due to race, gender, disability, and so forth in all aspects of society.

Over the next 30 years with the ADA, it is my hope that the COVID19 pandemic will provide a greater sense of urgency in the need to create a world that is more inclusive and accessible for all people with disabilities. Some of the ways in which to make this happen include:

  1. Declaring people with I/DD a Medically Under-Served population and requiring that all healthcare providers receive training on disability awareness, ableism, and racism. By doing this, we will eliminate the poor health outcomes and hopefully, increase our life expectancy.
  2. End the institutional bias in Medicaid by making access to Home-Community Based Waiver Supports as an entitlement. Get rid of the HCBS Waitlist, IQ limits, and the need to be in crisis to get services, as part of eligibility criteria.
  3. Invest in affordable and accessible housing that is built in areas with robust public transit access, along with areas where it is easy to get to places on foot.
  4. Allow anyone with a disability to buy into Medicaid, Medicare, and Long Terms Services and Supports.
  5. Embrace the social model of disability by training doctors and providers of long term services and supports on the needs, rights and wants of people with disabilities.
  6. Train all law enforcement personnel, community agencies, and disability providers on cultural competence, implicit bias, ableism classism, and racism.
  7. Embrace flexible work arrangements that allow people with disabilities to work from home. COVID is proof that many jobs can be done from home. This is one of the easiest ways to eliminate transportation barriers and personal health risks during this and future pandemic outbreaks. It also saves time and money for us. It cuts down on commute time and the annoying headache of poor paratransit and inaccessible public transit.
  8. Vocational Rehabilitation can support person-centeredness by supporting folks to achieve dignified work in their preferred interest area, rather than sticking them in jobs they think are best for us. This is especially important when it comes to making the case for VR to pay for college classes for a degree to get a job in disability policy.
  9. As a society, we must eliminate the stigma that comes with seeking help or support from the government and community alike.
  10. Tackle poverty among the poor, disabled, senior and other minority communities. 
  11. All disability and human service systems must embrace being truly person-centered.
  12. We must move away from Haves vs Have Nots.
  13. Disaster Preparedness must include the needs of people with disabilities.

Overall COVID19 is giving us a painful lesson in that we are not immortal. If we all live long enough, we will all become disabled. On a personal level, when I see the reaction from the non-disabled world when it comes to routine disruption and anxiety, I hope they come away with more empathy and patience for all the challenges people like me have had to battle through.

COVID19 is showing the world that we are not safe in segregated settings, such as group homes, nursing homes, day programs, sheltered workshops, and institutions. We all must work harder to eliminate racism and ableism from all parts of society. COVID-19 is only going to make us speed up the state and federal push of moving from a system centered to person-centered. Community is for all, All Means All. COVID-19 is telling us we need to live in the moment and not always be in a rush. COVID-19 is making it clear we need to change the way we interact with the climate. If not, we will have more virus outbreaks. COVID-19 is showing us that many jobs can be done from home when given access to technology and high-speed internet. Access to high-speed internet is another issue we must address if we are to close the digital accessibility divide. I hope that the new normal is more inclusive of diversity and disability than our old normal.

LEAD ON, HAPPY 30th Anniversary ADA.