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MERRILLVILLE — Life since the Americans with Disabilities Act has improved in a way that a road full of potholes spot-filled with asphalt is improved: It’s better but still fundamentally flawed.

People with disabilities have better access to buildings and have their own washrooms and parking spaces, said Jim Ward, president of ADA Watch and the National Coalition of Disability Rights, during his stop at Everybody Counts, Inc. on Wednesday.

But that’s only one small fraction of a larger issue that continues to leave much of the population sliding through the cracks, he said. Ward and his family have been touring the country for the past year in their “Road to Freedom” bus. They have stopped at 65 events in 44 states, spreading both the victories and obstacles of the ADA through a display shot by photographer Tom Olin.

Ward and the bus came to Merrillville as a kickoff to other initiatives Everybody Counts and its sister organization, Indiana F.A.C.E.S., plan to implement, said Indiana F.A.C.E.S. executive director Emma Sullivan.

“We’ve committed to host three more discussions like this one today here in Northwest Indiana and eight more around the state,” Sullivan said. “We want to continue the discussion we’re having here today.”

According to Ward, 95 percent of ADA employment-related court cases are dismissed before ever going to a jury because people with disabilities aren’t found “disabled enough.”

“Disabilities are determined by ‘mitigating measures,’ like if you have epilepsy and you take medication for it, courts are ruling you’re no longer disabled,” Sullivan said. “But those mitigating measures can change at any time.”

The Road To Freedom is supporting the ADA Restoration Act, legislation introduced in Congress this past July which will clarify the intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act and restore these civil rights protections.

“Are we looking for special rights? No. We’re just asking for equal rights,” Ward, who’s a person with bipolar disorder, said. “The world’s wealthiest nation doesn’t respond to its own humanity.”


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