Happy birthday, ADA

Happy Birthday Americans with Disabilities Act and Medicaid.

July 26 marked the 28th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, signed by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990. July 30 marked the 53rd anniversary of Medicaid, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

The ADA gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age and religion. The ADA also assures equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities for access to businesses, employment, transportation, state and local government programs and services and telecommunications.

Medicaid provides healthcare to families, children, pregnant women, adults without children and also seniors and people living with disabilities. More importantly, and little understood, is the fact that more than 20 percent of all state and federal Medicaid dollars are spent on long-term care services for adults and children who experience disabilities or chronic health conditions. Medicaid and its stakeholders work tirelessly to be person-driven and sustainable, because citizens of all ages with disabilities and chronic health conditions deserve choices, control and quality services to ensure independent, community-based care.

The ADA created the vision for inclusion, Medicaid, specifically Home and Community Based Services, is the public policy program that makes real in communities across America that people with disabilities are valued Americans who can make meaningful contributions to society when given the proper supports and services. Fighting ableism-systemic oppression based on ability would be impossible without both the Americans with Disabilities Act and Medicaid. Now, we now know that disability is a single thread in the weave of the fabric of a human life – people should not be relegated to a singular identity and literally invisible.

The last 40 plus years has been a long period of remarkable gains in advancing the human and civil rights of people who happen to experience disabilities. Although outcomes in all measures for people with disabilities are improved, there is still a long way to go to break down the myriad of barriers which prevent fully inclusive public schools; competitive workplaces; accessible/affordable housing and transportation and, most of all, warm and welcoming communities to be the everyday lived experience for people with disabilities.

This is very personal for me. I’m the parent of an individual with Trisomy 21, commonly referred to as Down Syndrome. He has many fine skills and qualities which more accurately describe him than “Down Syndrome.” However, due to dominant cultural narratives on what it supposedly means to be a person with Down Syndrome, painfully, I bear witness to his being summarily dismissed by well-intentioned people (and sometimes not so well-intentioned) living under the false background hum of “ableist narrative” which defines him as not quite human or a little less than human when he is genetically more human – after all, he has an extra chromosome.

When Americans believe it is appropriate for individuals with pre-existing health conditions to be denied healthcare, I have to wonder if they truly want to deny my son an annual exam or access to his thyroid medication. When Americans claim they support a roll back in protections provided by the ADA or Medicaid, I have to wonder if they’ve ever visited or seen footage of the far more expensive and vastly inhumane alternative called institutions. I wonder if most Americans realize we are all simply either a decade or an accident away from needing the freedoms provided to and protections for people with disabilities embedded in Medicaid and the ADA.

My birthday, July 28, sets between the birthdays of the ADA and Medicaid. My birthday wish is to live to see the day when politicians, celebrities and sports stars discuss the fight against ableism with the same passion as we do about racism, sexism, classism and homophobia; and everyday Americans fight to protect the public policy programs that promote freedom and fully inclusive lives for people like my son whose life tapestry includes the thread of having an extra chromosome. Happy birthday ADA and Medicaid!

Lisa D. Beaudoin is executive director of ABLE New Hampshire.