Spring 2009 AmeriGlide Achiever Recipient

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Kristen Jackson, Spring 2009 Scholarship Recipient

About the AmeriGlide Achiever Scholarship

Every year, the AmeriGlide Achiever Scholarship is awarded to two students who use wheelchairs and attend college full time. One of the requirements for receiving the AmeriGlide Achiever Scholarship is to provide a response to our essay question.

This years recipient and essay is listed below.

Spring 2009 Essay Question:

The American with Disabilities Act was established in July of 1990. Does this law do enough to help prevent discrimination and improve the lives of those who are mobility challenged? How has the American with Disabilities Act affected you?

Response

As with many things, law is a necessary but not sufficient step toward preventing discrimination. Without this first step of legal support, those with mobility challenges are left with little, if any protection or recourse when discriminated against at the most basic level. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is like many such laws in that it gives only the most fundamental guidelines as to what is not allowable under the protections of the United States legal system.

There remains a difference in those that meet the letter of the law and those who choose to go beyond that and meet the spirit of the law. While at first glance many would assume that there may be little difference between the two, I can attest through personal experience that there is a world of difference. I have experienced both situations, but it has only been the latter that has made me feel like a truly appreciated and supported member of the community. The difference can be explained through the example of two different universities that I have attended.

The first was an example of an institution that strove to meet the spirit of the ADA. In this environment, not only was I able to access the buildings and receive any necessary accommodations, but they provided equally appropriate programs and facilities similar to what they offered to the rest of their student body, like wheelchair sports, specially designed rooms for students with wheelchairs, a fully adapted gym, and door-to-door transportation.

This is in contrast to another school that I attended; which provided all that is demanded by law, but did not address my particular needs with the same problem-solving approach that I had come to appreciate at my previous school, but rather would simply state that they have met the letter of the law. This was evident when they stated that it was not required for them to make shelves reachable for me. This attitude unfortunately leads to continued discrimination, in that the person is not treated as a valued member of the student body, but rather a hindrance that is tolerated due to dictates of the law.

On the most basic level the ADA has had an immense impact upon my life. It has broken many of the physical barriers that people with physical challenges experienced throughout our nation’s history and was a necessary step in reducing discrimination against this group. It has allowed me to have a full and varied life: attending school, working, and contributing to my world in a positive and meaningful way.

As with many types of discrimination, there is only so much that legal guidelines can protect against, after that it is no longer the mechanism through which tolerance and acceptance is achieved; it is now up to individuals to each challenge themselves to be more open and to strive to meet the spirit in which the ADA was created, in the spirit that all men are created equal.

About the Author:

Kristen Jackson grew up in Anchorage, Alaska where she continues to return to whenever she gets the chance. She received her undergraduate degree in Psychology from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, then continued on to receive her master's degree in Clinical Psychology from Roosevelt University in Chicago, IL. She is currently attending St Louis University in the Clinical Psychology doctorate program, in which her areas of research include trauma, traumatic injury, and health psychology. She has used a wheelchair since her injury in 1998, and tries to balance a life of academic pursuits, advocacy, and continuing to have new adventures.

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