Living With Polio

Movin’ On

Nancy Baldwin Carter, BA, M Ed Psych, Omaha, Nebraska, is a polio survivor, a writer, and is founder and former director of Nebraska Polio Survivors Association.

We’re talking civil rights here. Big Time. “Our crowning achievement of the 20th Century,” as Justin Dart, Jr. called it—the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act—the ADA. On July 26 we celebrated its anniversary. Twenty years of freedom.

Immediately after the ADA went into effect, it became clear that this Act would alter more than the law. Attitudes all across the country began to change, as well.

People everywhere began to see us in a different light. A much-loved comic strip suddenly featured a popular teacher who used a wheelchair. Individuals with disabilities began popping up in TV commercials. Smiling strangers held a heavy door for us—or realized we had a place in line. We became visible.

Of course challenges followed. Many of us remember the goofy Catch-22 court decisions that limited the ADA definition of disability to its most useless extreme. More than one piece of outrageous nonsense belched up by official detractors even left us concluding that the only people eligible for ADA protection against job discrimination would be those too disabled to work. Obviously, we needed to clarify.

So Congress moved in to tighten up the language in the ADA, making it harder to misinterpret, more difficult to distort. On September 25, 2008, the Amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law.

The purpose of this Act is “to restore the intent and protections of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990.” No more twisting what Congress meant out of shape by Supreme Court rulings or others’ wrong interpretations.

To begin with, the definition of disability remains the same (“an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment”), except in the Amendments, Congress makes it clear that this is to be understood in the broadest way possible.

Let there be no doubt. If I’m disabled because I have only one leg, but my loss has been corrected by the use of a prosthetic device—guess what? I’m still disabled. Some people’s idea that my impaired body is no longer disabled because I’m wearing a brace or because glasses improve my myopic vision, simply will not wash anymore.

Take a look at these Amendments online. Or perhaps better yet, start by clicking onto the PHI website’s informative article, “The ADA Amendments Act of 2008.” A word here, a phrase there—now nobody can miss the teeth in this Act. Look all the way through. Think about what we know about discrimination on the basis of disability. See how we view a “reasonable accommodation.”

Oh no, we’re not home free yet. There will still be those who try to ignore what’s right for those of us who are disabled. We have more changes to make, many roads left to travel. But we’re on our way.

Today the contest is different—we have the ADA to fight for us. Look at the outcome when a U.S. District Court reminded the State of Florida of the ADA-guided Olmstead decision (the Supreme Court’s 1999 integration mandate). When that state tried to install a quadriplegic into a nursing home instead of providing her with the required services allowing her to live at home, they lost the battle. ADA to the rescue.

The ADA has a way of convincing people of our mutual and equal worth, and that each one of us has a role to play in achieving this equality. Today we have ADA power to count on—thanks to legions of contenders from the disability world and our fighting, caring friends.

All columns originally published by Post-Polio Health International (

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Disability Rights
Independent Living