There are 57.4 million people with a disability in the United States of America. And until 1990 when the American Disabilities Act was signed into law, there were no federal protections for them.
Because the law can be complicated, the Rocky Mountain ADA Center is putting on a series of workshops across the Mountain West to help business owners and advocates understand how they can make sure a landmark civil rights law is being followed in their area.
Emily Shuman, the media coordinator for the Rocky Mountain ADA Center, explained how her team helps train people in Montana, Utah, Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota and South Dakota in ADA compliance.
"We do trainings where we give people basic overviews of the main topics," Shuman said, which was why Rocky Mountain was set up in a Holiday Inn Express in Helena last week.
In those trainings, Shuman and her coworkers use their center's research on different topics involving ADA compliance to teach people.
"A big component of our research is how the ADA applies in different situations," Shuman said, like if or how vacation rental homes or apartments like those found on AirBnB have to be ADA accessible or not.
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Hotels and businesses make up a significant portion of the participants in the trainings, Shuman said. In the materials Rocky Mountain hands out to participants, one handout has a list of "Ten Tips for Excellent Customer Service" to help businesses to better serve people with disabilities. That list includes simple things like making eye contact and keeping clear paths for people who use mobility devices, and more emotionally thoughtful items like using "person first language."
"For example, use 'person who has epilepsy' rather than 'epileptic,' or 'a person who is blind or has low vision,' instead of blindness," the card reads.
The Rocky Mountain ADA Center does not enforce the ADA or advocate, but it does teach people how to follow the law and use it to their benefit, Shuman said.
"We help people get in compliance," Shuman said about working with businesses. "The ADA is a civil rights law, it's not a benefit and it's not welfare of any kind."
If followed, Shuman said the ADA creates a level playing field for those with disabilities.
"It gives people with disabilities the opportunity to do the same job with accommodations," Shuman said.