As Idahoans gathered around the state Capitol to honor the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), several advocates for the disabled looked toward the future of rights and freedoms for the disabled.
The ADA, signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, gave civil rights protections to people with disabilities, and led to changes in state and federal law. It also led to more accessible buildings and public places using elevators, ramps, and curb cuts, which is a small ramp from the edge a sidewalk to a street or driveway that helps people travel using wheelchairs.
The Idaho Task Force for the ADA organized the event. Bobby Ball with the task force said Idaho is generally doing well since the passage of the ADA in getting buildings and public areas more accessible, though there is room for improvement for services for disabled workers.
Ball also said that many Idaho cities and counties don’t have ADA coordinators, even though they are supposed to. The task force’s next project will be to prepare more than 20 trainers who will talk to Idaho businesses in an effort to dispel myths and stereotypes about employing people with disabilities.
The featured speaker for the event was Richard Pimentel of Nampa, who lost his hearing while serving during the Vietnam War. Pimentel joked that it looked like people were holding police tape around the state Capitol, and said he engaged in a similar protest around the White House in Washington, D.C., in the 1980s that led to his arrest.
Pimentel said it’s good that young people who don’t remember the signing of the ADA, and recent rights carved out for disabled people, like being able to access buses or restaurants.
Pimentel, who now works with employers to hire veterans who are disabled, encouraged those at the rally to keep working to help people with disabilities.
Secretary of State Ben Ysursa read a proclamation from the governor honoring the anniversary of the ADA, and also said he’s worked hard to make sure disabled people can go to the polls.
Ysursa said that Idaho has used $5 million in federal funds from the Help America Vote Act of 2002 to make sure people who can’t see or have other issues with casting a vote won’t be turned away on election days.
The task force handed out several awards during the event. One went to Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, who backed a plan to remove words like "retarded" from state laws. Another went to Jim Baugh, the executive director of Disability Rights Idaho and a longtime lobbyist at the state Capitol that works with lawmakers on disability issues.
Baugh said that signing the ADA created more work for disability advocates.
Baugh said Idaho has a mixed record in the past 20 years, with some room for improvement.
Baugh said the affects of the new state budget, which included some reductions to Medicaid, won’t be known, since not all the proposed reductions have been announced by the Department of Health and Welfare. Baugh also said that Idaho’s mental health system is underfunded and biased toward the involuntary commitment and incarceration of the mentally ill, rather than offering prevention and early treatment.
“This is not a money issue, it’s a reforming of the system issue,” Baugh said.