This weekend represents a momentous occasion for the disability community - the simultaneous celebrations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 25th Anniversary and the Opening Ceremony of the Special Olympics in Los Angeles.
Americans with Disabilities Act
The ADA is a federal civil rights law enacted in 1990 that prohibits discrimination based upon mental and/or physical disability. Among its many provisions, the ADA prohibits disability discrimination in employment, in access to public entities, transportation, accommodations, and facilities as well as mandating functionally equivalent telecommunication services.
Except in an historical context, the immensely positive impact of the ADA on the lives of people with disabilities, including structured settlement recipients, is difficult to comprehend. Today marks the 25th anniversary of the ADA's enactment. Celebrations are both understandable and justified.
The National Structured Settlement Trade Association (NSSTA) supports the disability community with its sponsorship of the American Association for People with Disabilities (AAPD). Eric Vaughn, NSSTA's Executive Director, is a Director and Treasurer of the AAPD.
Cornell University's Employment and Disability Institute (EDI) provides one example of how far knowledge, policies and practices have advanced since the ADA was enacted to enhance the opportunities for people with disabilities. Among other resources and course offerings, EDI maintains a resource-rich website that "helps policy makers, service providers, researchers, educators, the media, and people with disabilities and their families find relevant and timely statistics about disability."
Special Olympics and Paralympics
Following last night's nationally televised Opening Ceremony, more than 6500 athletes with intellectual disabilities from 177 countries will compete in 25 sports thru August 2 in greater Los Angeles as part of the 2015 Special Olympics World Games.
Started as a back yard day camp in 1962 by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the Special Olympics now represent the world's largest sports organization for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Unlike the Paralympics, which is primarily for athletes with physical disabilities focused on elite competition, Special Olympics is as much, or more, about participating as winning.
The Special Olympics website "welcomes all athletes with intellectual disabilities (age 8 and above) of all ability levels to train and compete in 32 Olympics-type sports." Special Olympic participation also encourages family, sponsor, coach and event volunteer participation in addition to the athletes themselves. Millions of people worldwide now participate in Special Olympic programs helping to form a core component of special needs communities more generally.
Paralympics, by comparison, include athletes from six primary disability categories, according to the Special Olympics website: "amputees, cerebal palsy, intellectual disabilities, visually impaired, spinal injuries and Les Autres (French for 'the others', a category that includes conditions that do not fall into the categories mentioned before)." To participate in Paralympic Games athletes must also meet qualifying standards.
Most structured settlement recipients suffer from physical, as opposed to intellectual, disabilities and therefore do not qualify to participate as athletes in the Special Olympics. Instead, personal physical injury victims potentially qualify for, and many participate, in the Paralympics. Although not a structured settlement recipient himself, the late Randy Snow represented one inspirational Paralympic participant. In a 2008 S2KM interview, Randy shared his personal Paralympic experience.
This week, however, the Special Olympic World Games occupy center stage with national television coverage. Take time to admire the performances of these athletes. We can all learn from their challenges and experience. As the Special Olympics website reminds us: “excellence is personal achievement, a reflection of reaching one’s maximum potential – a goal to which everyone can aspire.”