Disabilities: Where We've Been, Where We Are, Where We're Going
On the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a look at some of the many efforts NFPA has undertaken to address the needs of people with disabilities
NFPA Journal®, July/August 2010
Introduction by Allan B. Fraser, CBI, CPCA
I had an epiphany about disabilities and accessibility many years ago. I was 28 years old and I was going back to work on crutches following knee surgery, the result of a sports injury. I was able to go up the stairs to my second-floor office, but at 5 p.m. that night I found that I had neither the balance nor the strength — or the nerve — to go back down.
Fortunately, the building’s new elevator — one of the capital improvement projects I was responsible for — had been completed three days earlier, and I was able to hobble in and get a ride down. It suddenly occurred to me that for the next few weeks I was going to be a person with a disability.
I also realized in that moment that the idea of “disability” isn’t about two groups of people, the able-bodied and those with disabilities. Rather, it’s about each and every one of us: at some point in our lives, we will become disabled. Some of us will experience it when we’re young, and some when we’re older. Some will experience it only for a short time, others for much longer. Regardless of the disability — mobility, visual, hearing, speech, or cognitive — the point is that it’s a question of when, rather than if. It’s one of the guiding principles that has shaped my work on disabilities here at NFPA.
In July, I’ll represent NFPA at an important meeting of The National Council on Disability (NCD). The National Summit on Disability Policy, scheduled for July 26–27 in Washington, D.C., will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as it brings together 300 prominent stakeholders — people with disabilities, as well as federal, community, and private-sector disability experts — to discuss key themes for all people with disabilities, and to craft policy recommendations for the decade to come. The topics we’ll address at the summit — with its theme of “Living, Learning & Earning” — will include employment, civil rights, education, healthcare, transportation, housing, telecommunications and technology, international affairs, emergency management, and statistics and data.
NFPA has been inclusive of people with disabilities in its codes, standards, training programs, educational materials, and advocacy initiatives for many years, and we continue to improve and expand our work through the direct input of the disabilities community. With those efforts in mind, and to mark both the occasion of the NCD summit and the anniversary of the ADA, we’ve profiled six people here whose stories illustrate a range of disabilities issues, and that touch on some of the important steps NFPA has recently taken to address those issues. Their stories are instructive not just to see how far we’ve come, but to help us realize how much work remains.
And we can get it done. Working together, and with the shared understanding of what it means to be disabled, we can continue to make great progress for all people. None of us wants to find ourselves at the top of the stairs, wondering how to get down.
Allan Fraser is senior building code specialist at NFPA.