New Haven Register

By Mark Zaretsky  

NEW HAVEN — If you’re someone without a disability, you may think that when Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, it took care of problems people with disabilities may have with accessibility and opportunity. But a traveling “freedom tour” landed on the New Haven Green Sunday, and dozens of Connecticut disabilities rights advocates spent the day spreading the message that 17 years later, the ADA is threatened. And particularly threatened by some court decisions by judges who opted to narrowly interpret the law. The advocates say the law is in need of protection, reinforcement and, in some cases, repair.

The event on the Green celebrated “disability culture.” The Road to Freedom Bus Tour, a project of ADA Watch and the National Coalition for Disability Rights, is touring all 50 states to urge Congress to keep the promise of the ADA and build support for passage of the proposed ADA Restoration Act in order to do that.

“We feel that the Americans with Disabilities Act over the years has been weakened by a lot of the court cases,” said Heather Northrup, coordinator of CT-KASA, which is an acronym for “Connecticut Kids As Self Advocates.”

CT-KASA, an organization that, except for Northrup, is largely run by youths, was one of two such organizations that organized the New Haven stop. The other was the Connecticut Youth Leadership Project. Jeff Prushko of Shelton, one of CT-KASA’s two youth co-facilitators, said events like Sunday’s let people know about ADA, as well as how it falls short.While many people might think the passage of ADA solved the problem, “there are many places where new buildings are built” that, while largely accessible, don’t have things such as “paddle buttons” to help people like Prushko, who use wheelchairs, enter the building. Prushko, 16, a junior at Shelton High School, cited the relatively new Shelton Intermediate School as one such example.The event included afternoon-long entertainment on the Green and a host of information displays in the first and second floor of the City Hall atrium, along with a visit by the traveling “Road to Freedom” RV and exhibits that included a display of the photos of Tom Olin, who for decades has documented the history of the disability rights movements in much the same way that earlier photographers captured the civil rights movement.“Nothing is given to us” without hard work, said Olin, who has carved out a documentary legacy despite his own outwardly subtle disability: dyslexia. Olin, who is in the process of moving from Kansas to Milwaukee, said one of the most interesting things about Sunday’s gathering “is that two primarily youth groups are putting this on.” He said that Connecticut is one of the few places where young people are relatively out front in the fight for disability rights.Nicole Beno, 17, a senior at Tourtellotte Memorial High School in Thompson who is a member of the Connecticut Youth Leadership Project, said the Road to Freedom Bus Tour “promotes equality for everyone.“I don’t think there is” full equality “right now,” Beno said. “People may treat you nice, but I think they don’t always look at you as a human being.” While some people’s problems or difference “are more visible” than others, “everybody is unique,” Beno said.——————————————————————————–Mark Zaretsky can be reached at mzaretsky@nhregister.com or 789-5722.