Michelle Duprey
Michelle Duprey ()

With the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act coming up this month, advocates for people with disabilities are looking back at the progress the country has made, while pushing for future changes to make everything—from buildings to websites —more accessible.

To mark the anniversary, a series of events and workshops will be held around the state, including events aimed at the legal community.

“I think we have made some progress” since the ADA became law on July 26, 1990, said attorney Michelle Duprey, director of New Haven’s Department of Services for Persons with Disabilities. Much of that progress, she said, is in access to transportation and “access to government, but there is still a lot more to be done.”

Individuals with disabilities still have a higher unemployment rate than nondisabled individuals, she said. According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, as of June 2015, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities was at 9.3 percent, compared with 5.3 percent for people without disabilities. The labor force participation rate was at 20 percent for people with disabilities, compared with 69 percent for the nondisabled.

Hartford attorney Barbara Collins, who focuses on labor and employment law, said when the ADA originally passed, lawmakers and employers had an image of a “disabled” person as someone in a wheelchair, or missing a limb, or with a condition like Down syndrome, but today there is a greater understanding of the wide range of disabilities.

Collins will be among the panelists at an event focusing on the employment of people with disabilities. “Many employees who do not have those ‘traditional’ disabilities have been helped by the statute,” Collins said.

She said much work remains to be done in getting employers to understand the value of workers with disabilities and to adapt jobs for those workers. Too many employers “don’t want to be bothered making adjustments,” Collins said.

According to Duprey, there are still improvements needed to help make all buildings more accessible too. “Physical accessibility can vary widely,” Duprey said. “In New Haven, there are a lot of older buildings, so not every building is accessible.”

More needs to be done to make websites more accessible to everyone, said Duprey, who noted that most sites aren’t accessible to people who are visually impaired. Keyboard access to web content is important because the visually impaired tend to use keyboards rather than a mouse, for example.

Also, if a municipality is putting up a video of a public meeting on its website, it doesn’t help a hearing-impaired person if there isn’t a transcript of the meeting there too, Duprey said.

Through the upcoming events, Duprey, an event organizer and panelist, hopes people will get a better understanding of how to use the ADA.

“It is a tool for people to gain access,” she said. “People will learn how to use it to gain employment, and I hope the events empower people to get state and local government to provide more access. People will learn how to advocate for themselves too.”

The following are a few of the events planned to mark the anniversary:

• On July 21, a celebration event and kickoff will be held in the Aldermanic Chambers of New Haven City Hall from 3 to 5 p.m. Mayor Toni Harp and Gov. Dannel Malloy are expected to attend, which will provide an overview of recent employment-related ADA developments. A panel of attorneys will discuss how they have seen application of the law change over the past 25 years.

• On July 22, from 10 a.m. to noon, there will be a session at New Haven City Hall, meeting rooms 1 and 2, on how the ADA applies to state and local governments and how to make communities more accessible for people with disabilities. The presentation will be made by the state Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities.

• Also on July 22, the Connecticut Bar Association’s ADA Celebration will be held in the University of Connecticut School of Law’s Koskoff Koskoff & Bieder Trial Courtroom in Hartford, from 2 to 6 p.m. A panel of labor and employment practitioners will highlight major decisions and the evolution of reasonable accommodations in the workplace. Participants will learn best practices for attorneys when helping clients meet ADA requirements, enforcing rights under the act, the role of technology in complying, and likely developments in this area of law. Visit www.ctbar.org/event/ADAat25 for more information and to register.

• On July 23, a session on public access and enforcing rights under the ADA will be held in the Aldermanic Chambers of New Haven City Hall from 1 to 3:30 p.m. The session is designed to help community members assess ADA compliance of businesses and places of public accommodation. A walking tour will stop at several local businesses where participants will discuss structural and nonstructural barriers. Following the walking tour, there will be a panel discussion on how to exercise one’s rights for access to public places both under the ADA and state statute.

Other events are being planned throughout the state in the coming months, including events geared toward families. For a complete listing, visit the Connecticut State Independent Living Council’s website at ctsilc.org. For more information, contact Duprey at mduprey@newhavenct.gov.