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The American with Disabilities Act: dreams for the future.

January 26, 1992 marked the beginning of the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). After years of work to get this legislation enacted, from this date forward the issue of "access" will have to be considered in employment, education, housing and transportation -- in short, all aspects of community life.

Many are already saying that the goals of this legislation are unrealistic. Not only do they feel that the costs of making access available will be higher than society can afford, but they also believe we are giving people with disabilities unrealistic hopes and expectations which cannot be fulfilled. They accuse us of setting goals for people with disabilities that they cannot reach. They say people with disabilities will suffer disproportionally from their efforts and subsequent failures.

Because of the ADA and other major changes in our society, parents can have dreams of success for their children with disabilities. All parents are concerned about their expectations for their children. Yet, at the same time, parents are deeply concerned about the possible vulnerability of their children. As children become more independent, parents worry whether the children are ready and wonder if the word will welcome them. For parents whose children have disabilities, these concerns can be inhibiting. However, we can recall similar challenges about "unrealistic expectations when the courageous dreams of including children with disabilities in the mainstream of public education began to become a reality. In fact, some even continue to challenge the educational rights of children with disabilities that were affirmed by law in 1975!

Reality is changing because people with disabilities, their parents and concerned professionals and advocates have stopped accepting the prejudicial limitations that others have tried to impose. As barries began to disappear, children and adults with disabilities began to have more opportunities to demonstrate their abilities and test out their dreams. Limited expectations were gradually replaced by new, optimistic expectations that, given real opportunities, children and adults with disabilities and their families could prosper.

Years ago, parents were expected to "accept" the "reality" of their child's limitations and the real world in which there were insurmountable barries to the child's potential for participation in education, employment and even recreation. Wanting to do what was right, parents tried to keep their own dreams for a better life for their children under control. When parents asked for more services for their children or insisted on better educational opportunities, they were often accused of being unrealistic and creating even more difficulties for their children. Fortunately, some parents and adults with disabilities pushed ahead, unwilling to accept the imposition of limited expectations, and dreaming of change.

This newest legislation, created by the energetic years of work to bring it to fruition, is living proof of the power of dreams. While a great deal of time and energy was devoted to the legislation itself, as expectations began to shift, other forces for changes were evolving: many infants and toddlers in early intervention programs did "better" than they were supposed to; many children included in educational and recreational programs succeeded academically and socially; many teenagers began to look ahead to higher education and new job opportunities; and adults with disabilities competed, not just in athletics, but in the business world as well. At the same time, people with disabilities, parents and other advocates began to challenge friends and neighbors as well as co-workers, employers and political leaders to ensure that new opportunities became the new reality for everyone.

Now all children can have equal opportunities to dream. Caring parents and professionals, accepting the new changing reality and understanding their own mixed feelings about the uncertainties of all risks, can be supportive and encouraging. At the same time, being aware of the on-going struggles of other so-called minority groups, parents and professionals know that there is plenty of work to do to keep the wheels of change rolling in the right direction.

At Exceptional Parent, we too are changing as our attitudes and views of "reality" for children and adults with disabilities and their families change. In future issues of Exceptional Parent, we plan to address the topics of higher education along with vocational and social opportunities more vigorously. At the same time, with our special issue of Exceptional Parent this spring, we will focus on mobility for adult readers. And, as opportunities for all people with disabilities and their families increase, future special issued will reflect our commitment to expanding our efforts to serve.
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Author:Klein, Stanley D.; Schleifer, Maxwell J.
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Mar 1, 1992
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