What It’s Like: The Invisible Generation on life with disabilities
This discussion was done via Google Hangouts On Air. See video below to watch the full discussion. To read more, click on the link at the bottom of this page.
Even since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in the ‘90s, struggle is still a reality for many people with disabilities today, especially young people.
People like University of Houston junior political science major Serjio Brereda, who was born with dystonia, a disorder characterized by involuntary muscle contractions that cause slow repetitive movements and abnormal postures; or UH junior Mohammad Khan, who is a bilateral above-the-knee amputee; or senior biology major Kim Ivory, who has a C7 spinal cord injury.
The aforementioned students have no qualms about discussing life with disabilities; and so they tackled some of the biggest misconceptions and unknown facts about life as a disabled student in America.
SD: Samantha Davis
SB: Serjio Brereda
KI: Kim Ivory
MK: Mohammad Khan
SD: What are the biggest challenges you face as a disabled student, not just on campus but also in the city itself?
KI: I think one of the biggest challenges as far as being disabled goes is just getting people to really just see you – you know what I mean – because oftentimes, you become invisible when you have a disability. We’re not even talking about the physical challenges like moving around, but really just being accepted and being noticed. I think that becomes a huge issue. I know I deal with that sometimes, like being overlooked or not being considered for things just because I’m in a wheelchair. Just because I’m in a chair doesn’t mean I can’t think or speak. I feel that a lot – not just at UH, but in general every day of my life. It’s very frustrating and irritating.
MK: We become invisible but the chairs stand out. Everybody notices the chair – not the person sitting in the chair.
SD: There were numerous times where I’d get referred to in class as the girl in the chair.
KI: I have a name, you know!
SD: I’m a person!
SB: We have been labeled as the “Invisible Generation.” Yeah, we got the ADA in the ’90s, but that’s it. We still face limitations whether it’s transportation issues or whether it’s as simple as getting medical coverage for equipment we need. To me, that’s a bigger issue in itself.
SD: What do you think needs to be added or considered? Is ADA compliance enough?
SB: The ADA compliance isn’t enough. I think we’re moving towards a government that realizes that and is trying to find a way to reform it, but then again, it may take another decade to reform because nobody really stands up and says, “What needs to be done?”
KI: I have to agree. I feel like there’s been changes made, but we’re still not where we need to be. I feel like a lot of times when they design those ramps, they should have somebody that actually uses those ramps on hand and available to tell them, “Okay, this ramp may be too steep” – giving their input as they design it. I’ll come across so many ramps that are way too high and I’m just like, “Who designed this? What are they thinking about?” They think, “Oh, it’s a ramp. It’s a ramp, so they can use it.” They think they’re all equal and it’s totally not true. I’ve come across doors on campus that don’t have buttons to open and I have to figure out how to do it. I don’t want to sit there – and I’ve had to sit there plenty of times – and wait for people to pass by to open a door for me. I manage how I can but sometimes the door is just too heavy. They’re trying to make some changes. I see UH trying, but it’s just not enough.
MK: And just like you said the ramps are there but they’re not usable by people in wheelchairs – similarly, buildings have elevators, but I cannot tell you how many times elevators have broken down or I get inside the elevator and I get stuck. Compliance is something that should be ongoing, that, no, constantly these things should be checked out. There have been times when I got to the bus stop and after waiting for a while, the bus that comes in – the ramp for the bus is not working. This is something that should be checked before the bus leaves the depot in the morning for its first trip. It should be completely operational. If it’s not, then that bus has no business being on the street. So yes, things get installed but are not always operational, unfortunately. That’s one qualm.
SD: Despite what people may think – “oh, they’re a minority and there’s a small chance that they’ll be on the bus” – that needs to be taken care of.
KI: In all places. And constantly looked at and checked on and made sure that it’s not broken down. I make so many mental notes, and I say all the time, “I’m going to bring this to someone’s attention” and then I just forget about it. I’m like, “Somebody will fix it.” I really do need to start speaking up more about it.
SB: We all do, really, because we are one. We are – like we said – the invisible generation.
SD: I’ll tell you one place that really has a good idea of what they need to be doing – Disney World. I went there with my niece – she’s four – and we took her for the first time and of course she was about to fall out of her skin she was so excited. We were going to take the buses over to the parks in the mornings and it was so smooth. They would make everyone else wait. I would get on the bus first and they would fix things for me and it took all of two minutes. They had everything together and everyone was so nice. I didn’t have any issues. They went above and beyond to make sure I wasn’t in pain.
MK: That’s the difference between public versus private sector, I guess. Private sector is trying to draw more people, more crowds to come there so that everyone passing through the gates is buying a $100 ticket. That’s not the same situation on campuses. At the same time, we keep saying, “They need to change this. They need to change this.” No; we are the ones that need to be speaking out and in the best fashion that will begin changing things around us.
KI: Be adamant about it, too, and make sure you follow up with it. Don’t just say it one time and expect it to change. There have been so many cases where a button doesn’t work and I leave the building and go, “Ah, they’ll fix it.” I don’t even think twice about it and I come across the same problem again like a week later. I kick myself because I should have done or said something about it.
MK: The other thing is that as our conditions – we still are mobile, but there are other students on campus – other people – who are using these facilities who are in – for lack of a better phrase – worse conditions than we are physically. Sometimes they don’t have the mental capacity to go up and address these problems with the correct people. I think it is our responsibility to make the time to address these as best we can.
KI: Not just for us, but for those people as well without a voice.
This discussion is continued in Part Two of The Invisible Generation, which can be found here.