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Learning About Your Rights: The Americans with Disabilities Act and Understanding Disability

Learning About Your Rights: The Americans with Disabilities Act and Understanding Disability

Joe Zesski

Program Manager, Northeast ADA Center


For some people, disability is a word that has negative connotations. To them, disability is something to be avoided, a weakness, a stigma. They think someone who has a disability cannot make do for him or her self. But disability does not mean these things. Disability is part of the human experience. Disability can be a part of the aging process. According to the 2016 American Community Survey, In New Jersey 31 percent of people 65 and older has some type of a disability. And for those 75 and older, that figure rises to 45.8 percent.

Legally, the word disability can also have several different definitions depending on the context. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), disability is “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity; a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment.” Congress intended this to be a broad definition that applies to a wide range of individuals. It is quite different from the meaning of disability in Social Security, for example, where someone must not be able to engage in substantial work activity in order to receive benefits. Unlike Social Security, he ADA is a civil rights law; not a benefit or agency. It is designed to protect the rights of individuals who have a condition or circumstance that falls within its definition of disability. The ADA is intended to create an equal opportunity for people with disabilities in employment, in access to state and local government and its programs, and in access to public accommodations such as businesses and nonprofits open to the public.

At the upcoming 2018 New Jersey Foundation on Aging Conference, Mary Ciccone of Disability Rights New Jersey and I will share information about the legal rights of the disabled, including those covered by the ADA and NJ State laws. I will talk about the ADA‚Äôs impact and coverage, and its importance to older Americans. Many people are not familiar with the ADA and do not even realize that they have rights under the law. If someone can no longer see well enough to read, she may not know that she can ask the waiter at the diner to read the menu for her. Perhaps a gentleman who can no longer climb stairs must go to his town’s public works office located on the second floor of a building without an elevator. He may not realize that he can request to have someone meet him on the ground floor level. Or if that same gentleman goes to a senior center that is planning a trip to Atlantic City, the bus provider should have a vehicle with a lift available, as long as they are given notice for the need of one ahead of time. In these ways and others, people with disabilities have rights under the ADA, as well as some other laws. The presentation will discuss what disability means, how common it is, and the misconceptions surrounding the word. It will give an overview of the rights under the ADA as well as those in housing. It will provide resources for attendees to refer to when they want to find out more. And it will give an opportunity to ask questions of and to connect with two professionals who have years of experience in the disability rights field.


Excited about the session!? Register now!