By Gary C. Norman, a Commissioner of the Maryland Civil Rights Commission
Accessible parking, seating and restrooms at theaters, curb cuts, and an ever-increasing presence of assistance dogs in public venues constitute but a few examples of the outcomes of a “comprehensive declaration of equality”, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended, and its corollary statutory schemes enacted in the several states. The majority of people with or without disabilities desire to be integral to the social fabric of their community, to age in place within their homes and to participate in the social life of their neighborhoods. The 2010 survey entitled, The ADA, 20 Years Later, revealed that people with disabilities still constitute the poorest members of our communities, bereft of equal opportunities for living, learning, and earning. Therefore, my concise set of thoughts contained below will provide one strategy to ensure that people with disabilities of any age and older adults who may not self-identify as being disabled have the same access to these fundamental privileges, fostering their inclusion in communities.
In the experience of this attorney and Civil Rights Commissioner with a disability, there is continued need for translation of this law enacted 21 summers ago into practice in a way that maximizes the integration of the largest and poorest minority population in our neighborhoods, people with disabilities. For there to be a genuine translation of the law into daily acceptance and compliance, people with disabilities of any age need to be regularly visible and active within the marketplace, the workplace, and in the schoolhouse. A personal regular experience might clarify this point. Partnered with a guide dog, it is rare that my wife and I observe more than just us and my furry sidekick Pilot at an upscale bistro, spa, or hotel. An approach that this Civil Rights Commissioner believes states should increasingly apply to ensure that more and more of our citizens can be fully integrated or “age in place” is property tax forgiveness to homeowners with disabilities of any age or homeowners with military or first responder related service disabilities.