In a way, it’s quite heartening to see how many people are working daily, nationally and internationally for the rights of those with disabilities to be fully integrated into every level of society.
That said, it has been more than a quarter of a century since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted, making it somewhat difficult to understand why accessibility is still an issue at all.
But it is: In buildings and outdoor environments, in media and entertainment, in education and employment. And with nearly 1 in 5 Americans living with disabilities, according to the 2010 US Census, that’s more than 56 million people who are impacted.
We’ve compiled a list of 21 accessibility experts, from individuals to institutions, all actively working to create a better, more inclusive world for people of every ability.
You’ll learn; you’ll be inspired.
Susan P. Berry
Susan P. Berry founded Disability Smart Solutions in 2014 after 30-plus years in the Florida building design industry. The Orlando-based ADA consultant is passionate about barrier-free and accessible communities, consulting with business owners and project developers to ensure their designs serve the needs of people with disabilities.
You don’t have to live in Florida to benefit from the ideas, information and resources that Berry has on the site and social media pages.
A model with the international model management firm IMG Jillian Mercado is also a disability activist with muscular dystrophy. The new face of Beyonce’s merchandise line, Mercado told The Washington Post that together with IMG, she’s “trying to normalize diversity.”
“Campaigns should have real people,” she says. “People should see themselves in an editorial, in a magazine or a commercial.”
Disability activist Alice Wong is a staff research associate at the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco and advisory board member of Asian Pacific Islanders with Disabilities of California. She’s also founder the Disability Visibility Project, an online community that records and amplifies across a variety of media platforms stories of disability and culture.
As Special Advisor for International Disability Rights at the State Department, Judith Heumann is responsible for leading US strategy so that the rights of persons with disabilities are promoted and protected worldwide.
Heumann has been involved with advancing the human rights of people with disabilities on the international front for more than three decades, currently addressing the overdue implementation of national reproductive health services — at all levels — for persons with disabilities, and also reminding everyone that not all disabilities are visible.
Jax Jacki Brown
An activist from Down Under, Jax Jacki Brown says she’s “particularly passionate about sexuality and disability.” She founded a disability performance group in Melbourne and runs workshops for disability organizations and at conferences.
Her Facebook page points out discrimination against people with disabilities, including real-time examples of when taxi drivers refuse to pick up wheelchair users, or when a new ramp to accessible toilets at local school has a step designed right into it.
A writer, communications consultant, social media specialist and disability rights activist, Emily Ladau is a New Yorker who uses a wheelchair. She thinks that making disability issues accessible to everyone is crucial if the world is to be accessible to people with disabilities.
Ladau writes about it all on her blog called Words I Wheel By, and she’s also just started a disability podcast, The Accessible Stall. Episode 4 of the podcast is a very interesting discussion on why she considers her disability a part of her identity, in direct contradiction to her friend, Kyle, who says that his disability is just something that he happens to have, like brown hair or brown eyes, but it doesn’t define him.
Recently, model Nyle DiMarco has brought being deaf to the attention of 27 million viewers on Dancing with the Stars. On track to be a math teacher a couple of years ago, DiMarco is now using his celebrity status to raise awareness for the deaf community and has started the Nyle DiMarco Foundation. His main focus is to help deaf children and their families, providing fact-based information on language options — in particular, American Sign Language bilingualism.
In the “Flirting in Sign Language” video below, which has been viewed almost 1 million times in a month, DiMarco helps Tyler Oakley, a popular YouTube personality, sign as well as interpret DiMarco’s signing.
Candy B. Harrington
Emerging Horizons editor and author of Barrier Free Travel: A Nuts and Bolts Guide for Wheelers and Slow Walkers, Candy B. Harrington is a travel writer who specializes in accessible travel.
She’s got an Ask the Expert section where she answers questions on everything from the ADA’s position on open frame beds in accessible hotel rooms to the availability of accessible transportation in Rome.
Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient Melissa Stockwell was just 24 when she lost a leg to a roadside bomb while serving in Iraq. More than a decade later, the Paralympian, Ironman Triathlete and three-time world champion paratriathlete is a motivational speaker and cofounder of Dare2tri. Stockwell started the club with 2016 Team USA sponsor, Deloitte, in order to provide training and support for athletes of all ability levels, including injured service members.
A special education advocate, Lisa Lightner has personal experience in the matter, being the mother of two boys, one with special needs. She says she “attends IEP meetings for a living,” and while that might be slightly tongue-in-cheek, the Individualized Educational Plan she blogs about is not.
The program was developed in order that children with disabilities receive the specialized instruction they need at school, and Lightner provides parents with information, resources and support.
Disability Rights Advocates
The DRA is a legal center that represents people with disabilities whose civil rights have been violated. A non-profit organization with offices in California and New York, it focuses on class action suits in order to bring about change to systemic issues across the nation.
One ongoing lawsuit is against the City of New York regarding dangerous sidewalk curb ramps and other barriers to pedestrian routes; another is against a cab company in Arizona that charges wheelchair users $10 on top of the regular fare.
This national organization exists to end institutional bias against people with disabilities. One of its main goals is for people with disabilities to live in their own homes and in integrated community settings, as described in the Disability Integration Act, introduced by Senator Schumer of New York late last year. ADAPT organizes activists in the field, holding marathons, rallies and other nonviolent campaigns, including demonstrations of civil disobedience.
United Spinal Association
The goal of United Spinal is to provide people living with spinal cord injuries and disorders programs and services that maximize inclusion and independence, helping them remain in their homes and communities as active participants. The largest non-profit organization in the nation of its kind, with nearly 60 chapters across the country, United Spinal was founded in 1946 by a group of WWII veterans who had suffered spinal injuries.
Covering every aspect of disability for more than 20 years, Ability Magazine provides its readers with insights into individual levels of ability and human potential. The publication is a great resource, as it covers the latest on assistive technology and universal design as well as a multitude of other topics pertaining to people with disabilities.
Even the editorial pages of the magazine itself are accessible to people with impaired vision and other reading challenges, embedded with a high-density code that allows readers to “hear the print.” When readers download the Voiceye app from any smartphone, they can scan the code on the page and listen to the text-to-speech article (in one of 58 languages).
If you’re looking for a guide to disability rights laws, or information about other disability laws and enforcement, check out the US federal government website Disability. People who live with disabilities can find nationwide resources here, as well, including how to find a job, get health care and apply for benefits. Broad topics are covered, such as transportation, education, community life and technology.
The American Association on Health and Disability is a national nonprofit organization committed to promoting health among people living with disabilities. Preventing additional health complications and secondary conditions in people with disabilities is often a matter of education, and AAHD advances health promotion via advocacy, research and public awareness.
The US International Council on Disabilities in Washington, D.C. promotes the rights and inclusion of people with disabilities both nationally and internationally. With a membership of individuals and organizations throughout the country and abroad, the USICD keeps disability issues in agendas concerning US foreign policy and aid. The council also assists in bringing foreign and domestic disability communities, rights groups, and cultures together.
NCWD For Youth
The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth helps young people with disabilities make the change to adulthood, specifically with respect to getting work. It’s an information resource, with a blog, various reference documents, and quick reference guides. The guides cover benefits available to youths with disabilities, and they provide accommodation and support services for hidden disabilities.
Promoting the rights of all people with disabilities, disABILITY LINK is is the Center for Independent Living in Decatur, Georgia, serving the Metro Atlanta area. There are 402 centers across the nation, which provide information and referral as well as transition services in addition to peer support, individual and systems advocacy, and training in independent living skills.
A national membership organization of university-based programs, the Association of University Centers on Disabilities includes 67 centers for excellence in developmental disabilities, 42 programs for leadership education in neurodevelopmental disabilities and 15 developmental disability research centers.
The AUCD brings university and medical centers together with the communities they serve to bring meaningful change for all people affected by disabilities.
Advocating for the full integration and civil rights of people with disabilities, the Center for Disability Rights headquartered in Rochester, New York, is an independent living center working for systemic change nationally as well as locally and statewide. Since 1990, the CDR has supported community education, advocacy training and direct action, including litigation, to bring about change.