Self-advocate and Ms. Wheelchair Florida 2018 Shevie Barnes wants you to close your eyes and imagine yourself in a mall with a group of your closest friends. “This mall,” she explains, “happens to be two stories, and the food court is upstairs. Well, with the ADA in effect there’s definitely an elevator. But as you race toward the elevator to beat everybody upstairs, you see the thing that most of us hate seeing, and that would be the out of order sign.” For most people, this is an inconvenience, requiring them to find the nearest stairs or escalator. However, Barnes wants us to imagine ourselves, instead, in a wheelchair. “Your only way upstairs is gone. What do you do?”
Shevie Barnes presented this scenario as part of her speech during the 30th anniversary celebration of the ADA on July 24. Her speech asked the 400 attendees of this virtual event to examine the daily challenges of living with a disability, to consider how far we’ve come in the 30 years since the ADA made things like elevators a requirement, and how far we still have to go to make a truly accessible world.
For many who attended this event, Barnes’s speech was thought-provoking. In responses to a post-event survey, attendees described Barnes’s speech as “inspirational,” praising her passion and willingness to share her experience. As one respondent explained, “I had just never thought of how someone in a wheelchair would get to a second floor of a mall without an elevator.”
Barnes was one of three keynote speakers who left an impression on attendees. The event also included speeches by Comptroller for the Florida Alliance for Assistive Services and Technology Whitney Harris and Executive Director of the Center for Independent Living of South Florida Peter O’Connell. Like Barnes, Harris and O’Connell shared their personal experiences with the ADA and how it helped them achieve their goals. These speeches were a highlight for most of the attendees, as an overwhelming majority of survey respondents explained that this was their favorite part of the event.
Other highlights included speeches by local and state leaders, self-advocate Kazana McKenzie’s moving performance of the national anthem, and a slide show featuring images of people around the state showing their support of the ADA by wearing their commemorative shirts in their homes and communities. To ensure the ADA Celebration met the public’s expectations, APD did an online survey immediately following the event and received very positive results. More than 90% of survey respondents rated the event as either good or excellent. In the words of one respondent, “Great job not letting the pandemic stop the show!”
Attendees praised the flexibility and dedication of the event organizers. As one respondent said, “It was amazing that the event went forward in the face of formidable challenges for everyone in these troubled times.” Another added, “Thank you for celebrating this live!!! Awesome to be a part of the community and the ADA impact!”
When asked about how this event benefited them and their understanding of the ADA, 61% of respondents said that they left feeling encouraged about the future and 60% felt proud to have been a part of a celebration.
This good feeling was supported by Governor Ron DeSantis, who gave an uplifting message at the beginning of the event. The participation of Governor DeSantis, along with other leaders, prompted 50% of respondents to note that hearing from local leaders was a major benefit of attending.
Although this virtual event was much different than the in-person one originally planned more than seven months ago, APD and our partners are grateful to receive such a swell of positive feedback.
These are challenging times, but it is a testament to advancements in technology that self-advocates, families, providers, and leaders from all over the state were able to come together in celebration of everything that the ADA has helped individuals achieve.