1 The 30th anniversary of passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act was observed recently. But your organization was around long before that. Tell us how the League has evolved over the years.
The League has been serving people with disabilities for 70 years. It started with Helen Keller coming to Fort Wayne in 1949 and raised money to serve people who were blind. Becoming a Center for Independent Living in 1981 allowed for the expansion of services to people with any significant disability who reside in northeast Indiana. Today, we are a vibrant disability-rights organization with three services divisions that provide and promote opportunities that empower people with disabilities to achieve their potential.
2 How did the ADA help empower the League's local efforts?
The ADA strengthened our advocacy efforts at both the community and individual levels. The ADA gave us guidance on the minimum standards that should exist when it comes to accessibility, readily achievable barrier removal and reasonable modifications in various settings, and reasonable accommodation in employment settings. We pass this guidance on to individuals, businesses and the community we serve.
3 You've seen many changes over the years. How have public attitudes toward the blind and disabled improved since 1990?
With one in four people in America identified as having a disability, there is hardly anyone who isn't encountering someone with a disability within their own circle of family and friends. This, along with greater physical access, has made it so nearly everyone encounters people with disabilities more often. When people can engage each other in conversation and observation, we learn about each other, and attitudes often change when that happens.
We even have organizations like Greater Fort Wayne, Inc. promoting full inclusion of people with significant disabilities in employment. Employment is still an area where people with disabilities encounter significant inequalities.
4 How is Fort Wayne set up in terms of accommodating infrastructure and trans-portation? As the city continues to grow, do you think it will it be viewed as welcoming to those with disabilities?
Our city and county have been making great strides in infrastructure, public accommodations and attitudes. Because of that, I believe we are becoming viewed as a destination that is more welcoming to people with disabilities. That said, public transportation and affordable, accessible housing are two areas where many communities our size, including ours, struggle to meet the needs. The more we can build public and private partnerships to look at community-wide and even regional solutions, the better we are.
5 Have the coronavirus and the economic downturn hit the people you serve particularly hard?
The people we serve have experienced both challenges and ... some benefits. For many consumers we serve, they have faced a reduction or closure of services. Examples include students with disabilities struggling with remote learning and not getting additional needed services, medical appointments being postponed and cuts in transportation services. As the community has partially reopened, consumers with communication issues have an added challenge of face masks and those who need caregiver support for appointments have faced visitor restrictions. On the positive side, many people with disabilities have benefited from such options as more store curbside pickup options, apps for ordering restaurant food and remote employment opportunities. Hopefully, those options and others like them will continue to be part of our future society.