Today, President Obama and the nation celebrate the signing of the groundbreaking legislation, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), twenty years ago. ADA was signed by then President George H.W. Bush and prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and mandates accessibility to public and commercial facilities. As a result of the legislation American’s have become familiar with curb cuts, ramps in public buildings, disabled-only bathrooms and modified public transportation vehicles.
According to census figures almost 8% of Hispanics are classified as disabled. Many believe this figure to be higher with undocumented disabled individuals not seeking public services and therefore not counted. The community faces an increasing rate of disability due to the high-risk occupations they are employed in. Experts are seeing a disproportionate risk for Hispanics becoming disabled in their jobs, from loss of limbs operating equipment in slaughterhouses to blindness from chemicals used in agricultural settings.
Studies have found Hispanics rely more on family support than public agency support when they are disabled. They tend to be less informed of their ADA rights or the free services available to them. Cultural beliefs and practices are to blame for many disabled Hispanics remaining underground. For example, studies show Mexican beliefs regarding the causes of disability have long included notions of divine or supernatural imposition, and in general, Mexican attitudes and beliefs have been described as fatalistic – “Its God’s Will”.
The U.S. government is trying to address these issues with centers like Proyecto Vision, the first national assistance center for Latinos with disabilities. The center was established to provide employment opportunities by bridging the language gap and creating culturally appropriate responses to their needs. The current focus of Proyecto Vision is Latino youth with disabilities helping them successfully transition from school to higher education opportunities available under ADA. The center also assists disabled youth and adults attain independent living.
Future generations will never look at a disable person the same seeing more and more of them integrated into American society thanks in great part to ADA.