Where Accessibility is a Dream – Disability Worldwideby Nirupama Shankar, PT, MHS | October 16, 2008
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 was officiated so that people with disabilities may continue to work, play and participate in day-to-day tasks and activities. It states that no employer may discriminate amongst or terminate employees based on a physical or mental impairment when they are capable of performing the job with or without reasonable modifications. Employers are responsible for maintaining the security of his employees’ job functions, and also for workspace modifications if they are within acceptable financial and location criteria.
The ADA opens up wonderful opportunities for people wanting to pursue their careers even after a severe medical condition. It also has several guidelines for accessibility of the community — from specifications of the height of water fountains and sinks to measurements on width of doorways and hallways. These regulations allow easy maneuvering of wheelchairs and other equipment, making the community completely accessible to everyone without discrimination.
It is extremely heartening to see children and adults with disabilities benefiting from these legal guidelines. Because of such regulations, families can attend local community events, travel, and even take long vacations together. Granted, it takes some additional planning and effort, but at least they have the option. Not all countries are so accessible or inviting to persons with disabilities. In some countries, a disability pretty much means the end of life as one knew it.
The terms “disability” and “handicap” take on a much more literal and ominous meaning in developing nations. A young boy with a complete spinal cord injury in the cervical area will be confined to bed; unless carried by his family member or an aide. An elderly gentleman with a stroke will remain restricted to mobility within his apartment because he cannot navigate stairs, and his multi-storey apartment does not have an elevator. The concept of wheelchairs is a luxury — available only to the really affluent who can afford to have equipment custom built or imported from other countries. Corrective bracing and artificial limbs for persons with muscle imbalance or amputations is available, but very rarely used effectively. This is due to many factors like cost, lack of awareness, poor education and social stigma.
One hopes that the trend will gradually change. More businesses in the USA are taking ownership for issues around the world. Some companies that manufacture limb prosthetics and braces work closely with patients and their families. They collect old braces that patients have outgrown and donate them to countries that require them. Other companies offer financial support to smaller businesses in poorer nations. The World Health Organization (WHO) also funds educational programs that spread awareness about issues such as these. They even provide specific training programs for bracing and prosthetics.
All of this will lead to a more global solution to the effects of disability and loss of function.
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