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The American with Disabillities Act (ADA) and mixed signals

The American with Disabillities Act (ADA) and mixed signals

On this 20th anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), there were numerous articles in the mainstream press about how far we've come in, among other things, making the country an easier place to navigate for people in wheelchairs. Hooray for that!

Of course, there's still a lot of work to be done, as this opinion piece on National Public Radio makes clear: For the Disabled, What A Difference One Inch Makes.

As I was reading all of these articles, however, I couldn't help but think about the mixed signals our leaders are sending people in wheelchairs. Here we have the ADA, which has paved the way for things like curb cutouts for wheelchairs, but we also have Medicare, which only pays for wheelchairs if they're used in the home.

Riddle me this: What's the point of having curb cutouts if Medicare won't pay for wheelchairs that allow people to be out and about on the streets?

Or, more gravely, what's the point of requiring that people in wheelchairs have "equal opportunity to benefit from the full range of employment-related opportunities available to others" if, again, Medicare won't pay for wheelchairs that allow them to get to these jobs?

Over the years, there have been several bills introduced in Congress that would eliminate the in-the-home restriction for mobility devices for individuals with long-term needs (most recently, the Medicare Independent Living Act of 2009), but none of them have stuck.

I hope that by the time we celebrate another big anniversary for the ADA—maybe the act's 25th anniversary?—that will have changed.

Liz Beaulieu


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