This guest post was written by UCP’s Marketing Specialist, Kaitlyn Meuser. She is a 25-year-old woman living with cerebral palsy. This guest blog reflects her personal opinions.
I was born at the very tail end of 1989, and all of my life experiences have occurred in a world shaped by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). I suffered a brain hemorrhage as a newborn, which resulted in also a form of cerebral palsy called Spastic Hemiplegia. This basically means that the entire right side of my body is significantly weaker than my left. I’ve used every mobility aid imaginable:
Wheelchair – check. I used one throughout my childhood.
Crutches – yep, and in a variety of pretty colors.
A walker? – Mmm hmm, sure did. I would kill it at the skating rink with my walker because I could get in the rink and skate like everyone else. Braces/AFOs – You bet! I always had stylin’ AFO’s and my favorite ones were designed with a Space Jam theme. They were awesome!
As a child, I always knew that I’d have a way to get into my school. I’d always have people to help. This was my reality. The ADA was still new and it was helping me live a “normal” life. Ramps and curb cuts were an everyday thing. it wasn’t until I got into high school that I started to see how things needed to change.
Like many others, I jumped at the chance to start applying for jobs at the age of sixteen. I wanted a fun after school job where I could make a little extra money. I begged my mom to take me to the mall one weekend to apply for jobs. I went to several different stores, walking around my local mall, asking about open positions and filling out applications. I noticed something as I walked into these establishments. I got looks. I got hesitation. I got “Are you sure you can do this job?” It felt like I had to prove my worth more than a regular applicant.
When I attended college, I liked going out to the bars with my friends. I have always been a social person and I enjoy having a good time. As a college student I found that the bars and clubs near my school were not made for people like me. Unfortunately, the people who worked in these establishments often did not have a clue when it came to people with disabilities. College was time of personal growth. It was this time I began to see many of the benefits of the ADA for individuals with disabilities. While in college, I worked different part time jobs. These experiences made it clear to me that many of the apprehensions that I sensed from potential employers in my teenage years were less of a barrier. My employers provided the accommodations that I needed in order to do my jobs effectively. No one discussed my CP in the workplace and I was treated like every other employee.
It was also during my time in college that I started to notice the lack of accessible spaces on my college campus. It made me angry to see my friends and other students with disabilities have to struggle and take longer routes to class. It was through witnessing their struggles, as well as taking notice to my own struggles getting around campus, that sparked my interest in disability advocacy. I threw myself into researching the disability rights movement as well as the various issues those individuals within the disability community faced. I began to speak out on campus about the lack of access for students with disabilities. My proudest moment was giving a presentation on the ADA and the broader disability rights movement. The purpose of the presentation was to educate attendees on the history of this incredibly important piece of legislation.
Not to sound cheesy, but my life has essentially come full circle because of the ADA. I now have the privilege of working for an organization that advocates for people living with all disabilities. I grew up knowing that my experience as a person with a disability mattered. We in the disability community were part of the conversation. There’s still work to be done, but we’ve come a long way in 25 years!