December 01, 2000

Introduction - Human Rights Magazine, Winter 2000

We would like to express our gratitude to Kathi Pugh for her assistance with this special issue on disabilities.

Introduction

The ADA opened up the private sector in the same way that its counterpart, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, required government entities to provide access to public facilities and programs for people with disabilities. However, even though the ADA provides no affirmative action for people with disabilities and only requires certain reasonable accommodations be made, it is under attack and not all of the attacks are coming from the conservative right.

Ironically, many who are fierce proponents of equal rights, do not equate disability rights with other civil rights. Those of us in the disability community have a hard time understanding why we have found so few allies in the traditional civil rights communities. Most Americans believe that everyone, regardless of their race, should be allowed equal access to ride on a public bus but that attitude does not extend to a person with a disability who may need an accommodation that costs money to be able to ride that same bus.

The disability community is a very diverse group, not only because there are so many types of physical and mental disabilities, but also because a disability can happen to anyone at any time and cuts across all gender, race, economic, sexual orientation, and other social divides. Rather than simply focusing on the legal problems people with disabilities face or the myriad of conflicting court cases spawned by the ADA, this edition of Human Rights examines several cutting-edge issues affecting the disability community as a whole.

As the Special Editor of this issue on disabilities, I contacted many of the leaders in the disability community and asked them what they thought were the five most pressing issues facing persons with disabilities. The issues that were most frequently identified were: (1) physician assisted suicide; (2) diminution of the ADA by recent Supreme Court decisions; (3) disincentives to employment; (4) community inclusion/in-home attendant care versus nursing homes; and (5) accessible transportation, housing, and healthcare. This special issue on disabilities includes articles on some of these topics as well as articles on other issues facing both children and adults with mental and physical disabilities.

The first article, "Disability Rights Today: How Far Have We Come?" by Leslie Francis and Anita Silvers, offers a brief synopsis of the changes in the ten years since the ADA's enactment. "Assisted Suicide and Disability: Another Perspective" by Diane Coleman, presents this volatile issue from a disability activist's perspective, echoing the attitude of most in the movement. The third article, "Invisible Victims: Violence against Persons with Developmental Disabilities" by Joan Petersilia, discusses this widespread problem and suggests solutions for prosecuting attorneys. The fourth article by Arlene Mayerson and Kristen Mayer, offers a litigation strategy in light of the recent Supreme Court decisions that have narrowed the scope of the ADA. "Ensuring Access to the Legal System for Children and Youth with Disabilities in Special Education Disputes" by Lilliam Rangel-Diaz, and its sidebar, by Stephen Rosenbaum, explain many of the problems parents and advocates face in obtaining appropriate special education services. Finally, this edition would not be complete without a discussion of the World Wide Web. The article by Cynthia Waddell explains how the ADA impacts the Internet, and its accompanying sidebar discusses the recent lawsuit against AOL alleging that the Internet service provider is inaccessible to blind users.

The new millennium offers a potentially better world for people with disabilities. It is up to all of us to make that happen.
-Kathi J. Pugh
Special Editor