For those with disabilities, celebration marks progress and resolve to keep moving forward

Julie Bitely

| 3 min read

A showcase of talent, community, and ability lit up Grand Rapids’ Rosa Parks Circle on Tuesday.
Ability in Action was a spirited celebration of the 24th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law in 1990. The law offers broad protections against disability discrimination.
Attendees rocked out to local band Short Division and enjoyed performances by dancers from Arts in Motion Studio West Michigan, as well as a drum crew from Artists Creating Together. Wheelchair basketball proved to be a hit and Kitchen Sage was on hand to supply fresh raspberry puree snowcones and custom caramel apples.
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Local organizations that provide services and support to those with disabilities were able to connect with community members and provide education and information.
Peter Gordon, Director of Jabez Ministries, a ministry for Grand Rapids Community College students with disabilities, said the passing of the ADA was a big step forward.
“More students are going to college because of the ADA, but it’s not easy,” he said.
Gordon is deaf and has dealt with learning disabilities himself. He said misconceptions about people with disabilities abound. Despite having two master’s degrees, he’s encountered people who believe he’s cognitively impaired or give backhanded compliments.
“I get ‘you’re a really good speaker for a deaf guy,’” he said.
There’s a lot of talk about inclusion, but students mostly want to be taken seriously, Gordon explained. He said they’re often passed over for employment and other opportunities.
“I’m trying to constantly tell them to advocate for themselves but be willing to forgive people who don’t understand,” he said. “We’ve come a really long way, but we still have a long way to go.”
Jesse Silcox, 24, Sarah Stanford, 23, and Jessica Blair, 28, are all part of the Jabez Ministry on GRCC’s campus.
Stanford, who is blind, said she’s appreciative of the ADA and acknowledges that she grew up in a time that was more accommodating than previous generations. Having aides throughout school to help her, being able to access Braille textbooks, and professors who ensure she has what she needs to complete assignments are a few of the ways Stanford said she’s been lucky.
“I appreciate the fact that it’s been in existence for as long as I’ve been on this earth,” she said.
Blair, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, ADHD, dyslexia, and PTSD as a young adult said unseen disabilities such as hers still lag behind when it comes to earlier diagnosis, treatment, and understanding. She said events like Tuesday’s Ability in Action help.
“It gives awareness that we all have disabilities in our own forms,” she said. “Normal is overrated – there is no such thing as normal.”
For Jesse, a high-functioning autistic with Asperger’s Syndrome, the day was simply a great chance for everyone – disabled or not – to come together and have a good time.
“Everyone can come down and hang out with no discrimination,” he said.
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Photo credit: Eric Neitzel

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