One of the framers of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act says that law ushered in many physical accommodations for the disabled, but failed in some ways to change society's attitudes about people with disabilities. Nationally-known advocate Marca Bristo told a Bloomington audience last night that educational and employment opportunities remain a challenge for the disabled.
Bristo says the vast majority of the nation's estimated 58 million disabled persons remains unemployed, in part because they have given up looking for work. Bristo spoke at the 30th anniversary celebration of the Bloomington-based advocacy group LIFE Center for Independent Living which helps disabled people find work and live on their own. Despite the obstacles the disabled face in the workplace, the situation may soon improve, Bristo says. A recent federal law requires government contractors to target seven percent of their jobs for the disabled. The Department of Labor also now requires companies to better track the number of disabled people they employ.
Bristo, who uses a wheelchair because of a spinal injury, says most disabled people are unemployed not because they can't work, but because employers are reluctant to hire them. She also called on people with disabilities to oppose so-called "death with dignity" legislative proposals. She says these proposals amount to legalized suicide and could pose a threat to the severely disabled.
Bristo received the first Distinguished Leadership Award from LIFE Center for Independent Living, which serves the disabled living in McLean, Livingston, Ford and DeWitt counties. She is the founder and chief executive of Access Living of Metropolitan Chicago, was appointed by President Clinton to serve on the National Council on Disability and led the campaign to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities.