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ADA Generation: Coming of Age Under the ADA (Part 2)

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ADA Generation Part 2

Part 2 of the special series about the voices of ADA Generation will cover my story, and what it was like growing up under the new mandate as a disabled Black child who started Kindergarten in 1991.  (If you missed Part 1, read here.)

I shared my story for Institute for Educational Leadership’s (IEL) call for ADA Generation stories I saw earlier this year, and I am happy to have been featured in its We Are the ADA Generation series.

In my story, I wrote about the educational opportunities that were afforded to me because of the ADA as a disabled Black girl in a rural Southern town, and how my life would be drastically different if the ADA did not exist.  For me, the ADA opened doors that those before me, especially disabled Black persons living in rural/small town areas, did not have, but now, had a right to roll/walk through.

Here is my ADA Generation HERstory:

 

My name is Vilissa, and I am proudly ADA Generation.

I started Kindergarten in 1991, a year after the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The opportunities that was afforded to me due to the perfect timing of entering the educational system was fateful; without the ADA, I would not have had the academic, and later professional, success I now take for granted.

Being a disabled African American female, I know how my identities creates a triple jeopardy situation when it comes to education – those who “look” like me that lived in rural towns in the South were not always given the chance to attend school.  As my Grandmother has repeatedly told me growing up, “children like you didn’t go to school when I was your age – you stayed at home.”  My Grandmother is a member of the Silent Generation; she knew many disabled persons who did not go to school because they were thought to not need an education and/or accommodations were not made available.  It always amazed me that we as a people were denied this right simply because we were disabled.  How many brilliant, creative, and passionate movers and shakers remained at home because they were not allowed to attend school, and thus not given the chance to share their gifts, talents, and thoughts with the world?

The ADA provided the chance for me to share my gifts with the world – my voice as a disabled woman of color advocate, my gift of writing, and my ability to share my story through presentations at conferences and public meetings.  Without the ADA, I would not have graduated from high school as Class Valedictorian, obtain a Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, aspire to attend law school next year, become a children’s book author, or be an entrepreneur.

The enactment of the ADA would not have been possible without the tireless advocacy efforts of those who came before me; I owe it to them to carry the torch that was lit from their fervent demand for equality, justice, and acceptance.  On a personal level, I am indebted to my Grandmother who ensured that I received a quality education and healthcare during a time when such rights were in its infancy.  Though she was not very knowledgeable about the laws, she knew that I deserve the same opportunities as everyone else, and her determination, unconditional love, and support were dire to my growth as a disabled young girl.

I am a proud member of ADA generation because my life would have turned out completely different if this law had not existed.  I will never take for granted the rights I have, and am fighting to expand them further.  The ADA marked the beginning of true societal inclusion and acceptance, and it is up to us to continue the work that lies ahead.  As a disabled advocate, I am passionate about leaving my “tire track” on the disability rights movement because it is my calling to do so.

 

Final Thoughts

Reflecting on how the ADA impacted my life caused me to think about how much progress the mandate has created regarding the quality of life and opportunities afforded to disabled Americans, and the amount of work that still exists.  The fight now is to ensure that the rights outlined within the law are carried out fully, and to close the loopholes some may try to use to stymie our voices and well-being.

I hope that when the ADA reaches it 50th anniversary, we will be able to look back and say how far we have come in this country in addressing and extinguishing the barriers that prevent disabled Americans from participating in our society.  We can make it possible – now is the time to put in the work to bring that hope into fruition.

About Vilissa Thompson, LMSW

Vilissa is the Founder & CEO of Ramp Your Voice!, an organization she created to establish herself as a Disability Rights Consultant & Advocate. Ramp Your Voice! is a prime example of how macro-minded Vilissa truly is, and her determination to leave a giant "tire track mark" on the world.

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