In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became the first civil rights law for people with disabilities, prohibiting discrimination in employment, public accommodations, public services, and telecommunications. The law is well-intentioned but, for many public agencies, often raises questions that don’t have easy answers. Or, in some cases, seemingly any answer.
After seeing her speak at an American Public Works Association annual convention, former Public Works Managing Editor Victoria K. Sicaras suggested we ask accessibility expert Michele S. Ohmes to answer those questions via a monthly column. Billing herself as the “Wild, Wacky Woman of Wheelchair Lane with her boss Sufra [her service dog],” Michele travels the country as author, trainer, consultant, and motivational speaker. Somehow, even with all that, she found time to meet our deadlines.
I’ve learned a lot since then. The most important is to experience community infrastructure as a disabled person. Use the toilet paper dispenser in the wheelchair-only restroom stall, look for oncoming cars from a vegetated median, navigate sidewalks in construction zones, find the accessible pedestrian signal button and listen for traffic while blindfolded. When confronted with seemingly conflicting design guidelines, this exercise makes deciding how to interpret them very clear.
You and I aren’t the only ones impressed by Michele’s wisdom. Her "ADA Corner" blog won first place in the American Society of Business Publication Editors’ How-to Tips/Service category last year. Michele’s been working with us since 2010, so now she's taking a bit of a break. Her final piece is on page 16 of our Winter issue, which you’ll receive in a week or two; but you can find all her columns on our website and e-mail her at [email protected]. Thank you, Michele.
P.S. Congress recently voted to limit some ADA rights.