Commentary: ADA was made law just as my son needed it most

Months after my son suffered a brain injury, the ADA was passed, ensuring he could live an inclusive life.

By Lance Morehouse / For The Herald

In the mid-1980s I was a young, single father raising two sons after my first marriage ended.

My oldest son, Lance Jr., had a near-drowning accident on March 5, 1990, at the age of seven. He was underwater for 30 to 45 minutes before being rescued by a diver. After three weeks in the intensive care unit, doctors got us together as a family and shared that he was brain dead and we needed to decide about continuing life support or not. After several days of tough conversations, we made the difficult decision to remove life support.

What we learned next is doctors don’t always know everything; Lance Jr. had other plans and survived.

The Americans with Disabilities Act passed Congress and was signed into law that same year. Believe it or not, President Bush signed the ADA into law on Lance Jr.’s birthday, July 26, 1990. Little did I know at the time how monumental this law would be to ensure that Lance Jr. would live a meaningful life in his community!

Lance Jr. was left with significant disabilities as a result of brain damage because of the lack of oxygen to the brain. I had no experience with people with disabilities before Lance Jr.’s accident. I suddenly found myself in a world of grief, trying to find resources that would meet our family’s needs and allow my son. to return home to live with our family. After a year and a half in a children’s care home, Lance Jr. finally came home on Christmas Eve, 1991.

The ADA contains several provisions that allowed people with disabilities to challenge societal barriers that excluded them from their communities. This law followed other civil rights laws passed in the United States including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1975.

Most people know the ADA as requiring accessibility in public buildings. While this is very true, the act also has other provisions including protections against discrimination in the workplace, access to reasonable accommodations including interpreters and access to technology, and accessibility to services and programs.

Because of the ADA, Lance Jr. was able to live an inclusive life in the community, attend his neighborhood school and live with his family. He was able to work as an adult, go to movies, and receive services to meet his needs. He was able to visit parks, go to museums, go shopping, and eat in restaurants, all things that many of us take for granted. After living another 17 years following the accident, Lance Jr., died in 2006.

As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the ADA this month, please think of Lance Jr. and other people with disabilities that you might know who have the same opportunities as you and I. Lance Jr. was able to reach his potential and be a contributing member of society because he was able to access his community!

Lance Morehouse is chief executive of Sherwood Community Services which provides services and advocacy for children and adults with disabilities in Snohomish, Skagit and Island counties.

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