Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Disabled Continue Fight for Equality

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Disabled Continue Fight for Equality

Article excerpt

Byline: Alliniece T. Andino, Times-Union staff writer

While civil rights activists in the 1950s and 1960s fought for black Americans' rights to sit anywhere on city buses, Dan O'Connor points out that people with disabilities couldn't even get on the bus.

And when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 became law, Ron Storn said, the drafters forgot one thing: people with disabilities.

"I don't think a lot of people, when they think about civil rights . . . realize people with disabilities are fighting for civil rights," said Angie Miller, who works at the Independent Living Center of Northeast Florida, an advocacy organization for people with disabilities. "We aren't looked at with the same amount of respect to have the same amount of freedoms."

The struggle for people with disabilities to have equal rights parallels movements for civil rights and women's rights, but advocates say few seem to grasp the similarities. People with disabilities are still pointing out to business owners their narrow doorways, insufficient restrooms and the lack of translators, which are all rights afforded them by under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Sometimes, owners view requests as inconveniences, not as rights.

The law, passed in 1990, allows people with disabilities -- an estimated 50 million in the United States -- to request equal access to public and private establishments, and then file suit if reasonable accommodations are not made.

The Independent Living Resource Center plans to celebrate the 11th anniversary of the signing of the law with festivities tomorrow at The Jacksonville Landing.

"We're trying to have the same quality service that people without disabilities receive," said O'Connor, who is blind and works at the center. "We shouldn't be treated differently."

Miller describes herself as an activist. She is among wheelchair users who often alert business owners about how to improve access to their shops.

"I'm always looking for ways the world can be made easier," she said.

Miller said she needs strangers to type in her personal access code on debit machines in stores because the key pads are too high. Some of the polling places for elections are not wheelchair-accessible. And people with disabilities who depend on community transportation at times wait longer and pay more for services than others.

One of the greatest challenges for people with disabilities, Miller and other advocates say, is educating others that federal law is on their side.

If a blind person walks into a store, for example, and does not receive the necessary assistance to reach the level of service for a typical customer, that person has legal grounds to file a complaint with federal authorities. …

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