Very exciting times are occurring this week for many Charles County school students, teachers, parents and friends participating in various graduation ceremonies. All are taking the time to celebrate and congratulate the hard work by our students as they move on to their next journey in life.
Parent participation in their child's education has been and is encouraged at all levels. Positive encouragement and assistance by parents and families has proven to be highly rewarding for students with achieving greater educational, personal and community success.
As the parent of a Middle School student I have been looking forward to the graduation ceremony being held this Friday, at my son's school.
However, as a disabled person, I may not be able to enjoy the same excitement and family participation afforded all other citizens.
General Smallwood middle school has recently informed me that seating for disabled people attending their graduation ceremony will be sectioned off to a specific area, due to space limitations. I was informed that access to appropriate seating will NOT be with my wife and older child, but in a separate area for disabled persons. I and all other disabled persons will be sitting away from the "general" audience and away from our families. In other words, segregated.
Not only is this demoralizing and unacceptable, it is very illegal.
Like all citizens, people with disabilities are protected by law(s) from any form of discrimination. This includes everyday activities and events from which we might have been excluded in the past.
In 1973 the (American) Rehabilitation Act became law; Sections 501, 503, and 504 prohibited discrimination in federal and all other programs or services receiving federal funds. Key language in the Rehabilitation Act, found in Section 504, states "No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States, shall, solely by reason of his/her handicap, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance." This was the first civil rights law guaranteeing equal opportunity for people with disabilities.
Today the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990  (ADA), later amended with changes effective January 1, 2009, and includes the September 25, 2008, law the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), is the basis of laws protecting the disabled. These rights and laws are intended to give broader protections for the disabled and "turn back the clock" on court rulings which Congress deemed too restrictive. They "provide comprehensive civil rights protection and prohibit discrimination based on disability."
Closely modeled after the Civil Rights Act and Section 504, the ADA was the most sweeping disability rights legislation in American history. It affords similar protections against discrimination to Americans with disabilities as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics illegal.
Titles II and III of the ADA (ADAA), prohibits disability discrimination by all public entities at the local (i.e. school district, municipal, city, county) and state level. Public entities must comply with Title II regulations by the U.S. Department of Justice. These regulations cover access to all programs and services offered by the entity (a requirement since the 1973 law).
Conforming with Title III means no individual may be discriminated against on the basis of disability with regards to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation. "Public accommodations" include most places of lodging (such as inns and hotels), recreation, transportation, education, and dining, along with stores, care providers, and places of public displays, among other things.
Title III also has application to existing facilities. One of the definitions of "discrimination" under Title III of the ADA is a "failure to remove" architectural barriers in existing facilities. See 42 U.S.C. § 12182(b) (2) (A) (IV). This means that even facilities that have not been modified or altered in any way after the ADA was passed still have obligations.
On September 15, 2010, signed into law by the President, the Department of Justice issued revised regulations for implementation of Titles II and III, effective March 15, 2011.
The rules contain many new requirements for public accommodations, as well as an "element by element safe harbor."
Given all the past and current laws providing civil rights to and protection of discrimination of disabled persons, in 2012, due to my disability I will not be provided with accessible seating with my family at my son's graduation. Rather, I will instead be segregated in a "special" section for people with disabilities.
This is an insult to me, my family, and all persons with disabilities and especially to my son.
When we so openly discriminate against the disabled and consider the provisions currently being provided to us as "adequate", we are simply reverting back decades to polices, standards and a consciousness, of ignorance, uninformed and convenience. We are telling everyone that it is okay to discriminate based on disability.
With the return of our brave American men and women from 10 years of war, unfortunately we will add over 30,000 to the ranks of "disabled". Segregating these brave individuals and all disabled persons during events, especially a public event is a great tragedy.
We should be ashamed to even consider that the "solution" to accessibility for the disabled, by our public school system is segregation.
What other group; men, women, African American, Hispanic, Irish, Polish, baseball lovers, educators, etc., would be satisfied with such an "accommodation"?