If you are not one of the nearly seven million Americans with some sort of disability or do not have a friend or family member who is disabled, you may think the ADA – Americans with Disabilities Act – does not affect you. You would be mistaken.

Every spring and fall, the City of Stillwater and Oklahoma State University plan Disability Awareness Weeks in order to call attention to the ways our community is becoming more accessible to everyone.

First, there are many kinds of disabilities. Some, which affect hearing, vision, or the ability to walk, may be noticeable in your office, classroom or at the grocery store. Others such as extreme sensitivity to heat and cold or congestive heart failure may be invisible but just as debilitating.

Second, the ADA, passed in 1990, is a Federal law designed to protect the rights of all citizens to access public amenities from schools to government offices to restaurants to parks. You have probably noticed more and more curb cuts in our community, more signs identifying handicapped parking, corrugated surfaces on ramps which clue individuals who are blind that they are about to walk into traffic, and accessible stalls in public restrooms. All are tangible evidence that Stillwater is becoming a place where all citizens are encouraged to participate in community life.

If your boss or teacher agrees, Disability Awareness Week would be a good time to have someone in your class or office use a wheelchair, wear a blindfold, limit the use of arms with an exercise band, or put in ear plugs for a full day to gain an appreciation for life with a disability.

If you have ever had your grocery cart roll away while you were digging for your car keys, you have an inkling of what happens to someone using a wheelchair if they let go of the rims to use their hands for another purpose.

Or imagine you have “rolled” into an accessible stall where someone has placed a chair as a place to set down books, papers or anything else being carried; except when you attempt to turn your wheelchair to secure the stall door, your wheels catch on the chair and then you can neither reach the toilet nor get out of the stall. If you have limited arm strength, you will not soon forget the frustration of a door that exceeds the ADA standard requiring no more than five pounds of pressure. Or you might jump with alarm when a stranger grabs your arm because the ear plugs rendering you “deaf for a day” prevented you from hearing that person asking you for directions.

During Disability Awareness Week, you are likely to see people with vision problems using white canes to walk around Stillwater. You may notice people in wheelchairs using public transit and see children using service dogs getting the full benefit of the Stillwater Public Schools. But you will also realize that moms with toddlers in strollers, kids on bikes, and delivery people with stacks of packages are finding Stillwater an easier place to be thanks to ADA accommodations.

You can take pride in the fact that you live in a city that is helping residents with disabilities participate in community life – that no one is disabled, just differently able to make a difference.

City Connection is brought to you by the City of Stillwater as a public service to provide regular information about City services and to respond to general questions asked by the public about their local government. Today’s information is provided by the City Manager’s Office. For further information, call 742.8209.

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