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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 20, 2006

More can be done for those with disabilities

By Brian Kajiyama

As we approach the 16th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, it is fitting to step back and celebrate. But is it a cause for celebration? As a person with a physical disability, I feel it is not cause for a celebration that typically comes with turning "sweet 16."

On July 26, 1990, President George Bush enacted the ADA, drafted by numerous disability rights advocates and persons with disabilities. This act was designed to begin the process of providing persons with disabilities equal access to public services and locations.

This was not an attempt to gain special treatment or greater benefits for persons with disabilities. The disability movement strived for equal opportunities for everyone.

There has been progress, such as public transportation access and curb cuts on sidewalks. But much remains to be done.

I am a graduate student at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa in the College of Education's Counseling Education program. I strive to be the best student possible. But this warm and fuzzy feeling has not been reciprocated.

I have no access to my departmental office, which is on the second floor of a building without an elevator. As a result, I feel disjointed, unwelcome and like a second-class student.

As persons with disabilities, we deserve to be treated with respect from all segments of society.

I live in Kailua and occasionally enjoy rolling into the town, a 10-minute stroll from my house. There is a bridge that leads into Kailua town. Despite improvements, the pedestrian path on the side of the bridge is about 2 inches too narrow for wheelchairs to navigate.

Each trip into the town and back turns into a game of Frogger a wheelchair user needs to time it just right to avoid being hit by traffic. It is unfair that a person with a disability must risk life and limb to take a trip into town.

It seems the only way a change will be made to the bridge is if and when someone gets hit, demonstrating the lack of urgency to comply with the ADA.

It is great to have policies and laws to ensure persons with disabilities have rights equal to their peers without disabilities. However, it is important that persons with disabilities, advocates, and service providers be knowledgeable in utilizing these laws and policies.

People with disabilities want opportunities to succeed and flourish. It is vital that all people have a chance to be heard. This means recognizing the importance of augmentative communication devices to those who cannot verbalize, or ensuring that all public places have text telephones or TTY devices so persons with speech and hearing impairments can communicate.

By making buildings accessible, perhaps by installing an elevator, all benefit, including the delivery person with heavy loads, the person with knee problems unable to navigate stairs without pain and the wheelchair user.

By making the path on the bridge accessible, parents can easily push their infants in joggers, bicyclists can bike more easily, and wheelchair users could access their community safely.

I am committed to working hard to ensure that efforts of past disability rights pioneers will not fall by the wayside.

On Friday, a group from the University of Hawai'i's Center on Disability Studies and other community members, will celebrate the arts and disabilities while commemorating the ADA's 16th anniversary. Art Enabled will take place at McCoy Pavilion from 10 a.m. to 3pm. Our aim is to promote inclusion through a welcoming atmosphere for all, with activities ranging from painting a large canvas mural, pottery, face painting, to musical performances by Na Leo Pilimehana and Miss Hawai'i 2005 Malika Dudley.

Walt Disney once said, "All of our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them." Disney dared to dream.

It is my personal hope that one day all persons with disabilities will be able to say: "I am living my dream!"

Happy Birthday, ADA. May you continue to grow and flourish so that one day we can have a celebration that will include all people.

Brian Kajiyama is a Kailua resident and a graduate student at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.