Lehigh to mark 25th anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act

Lehigh University will be joining with institutions across the country in celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities.

The act, which was signed into law in 1990, ensures that individuals with disabilities enjoy the same rights and opportunities as others in the areas of employment, public services and accommodations, transportation, telecommunications and other essential programs and services.

Events and programming at Lehigh will include an exhibit that will run from April 7 through April 9 in Room 303 of the University Center, and an April 7 showing of the movie “The Theory of Everything,” which details the emotional and physical struggle of Stephen Hawking, the English theoretical physicist and cosmologist. Hawking was diagnosed with a rare form of early-onset amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. As a result of the disease, Hawking is almost completely paralyzed, but still able to communicate through a speech-generating device.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, April 9, Lehigh’s men’s and women’s basketball teams will compete in Grace Hall against the Freewheelers, a local non-profit sports organization affiliated with the Lehigh Valley Center for Independent Living (LVCIL). Lehigh athletes will only use wheelchairs in the competition.

Men’s basketball coach Brett Reed said that his players haven’t practiced in wheelchairs and have only done regular skill development sessions and weight training as game prep.

“Although they are very talented players, this is a whole new ballgame,” Reed said. “I fully expect our guys will be totally out of their element during this event.”

Whatever discomfort they may feel may be worth it if the student-athletes gain a new perspective and renewed determination for a game they love, he added.

“They will have the chance to see how blessed they are to be healthy and fully able to compete at the division one level in college sports. Our opponents this night are tremendous examples of courage, toughness and will serve as an inspiration.”

Women’s basketball coach Sue Troyan said that her players will spend the day of the event getting acclimated to moving around the court in wheelchairs, but she expects that they, too, will be far out of their comfort zone when they go up against the Freewheelers. Hopefully, she said, it will lead to a deeper appreciation and sensitivity toward those with a disability.

"We feel like this game is also a wonderful opportunity to help celebrate the 25th anniversary of the ADA, and an opportunity to raise awareness for the ADA and how it has helped to positively impact the lives of so many people,” she added.

The basketball game is free and open to the public. Donations will be taken at the door and throughout the game to benefit the  LVCIL.

Meeting the needs of the disabled

At Lehigh, the various needs of students with disabilities are met by a dedicated staff of four in the Office of Disability Support Services, a department within Student Affairs. Those supported by the department include students with learning disabilities, visual or hearing impairment and those who have a physical disability.

“Over the past 25 years, I have seen a significant increase in the number of students with disabilities entering post-secondary education,” said Ashcroft, who credits advances in technology and changing attitudes with enabling this progress.

“The Kurzweil Reader and Jaws software, which are text-to-speech technology, have provided access for students with visual disabilities and dyslexia. Cochlear implants, portable FM systems, and captioning services have contributed to increased access for students with hearing loss. These students contribute to an enriched, diverse culture here at Lehigh.”

Over the course of a typical academic year, Ashcroft said that her office supports approximately 320 students with disabilities, with services that include academic accommodation, one-on-one academic coaching, and help in securing assistive technology. In addition to meeting the needs of students with documented disabilities, the office also works collaboratively with other university resources to increase awareness and to promote university wide accessibility.

“When talking about Disability Support Services,” Ashcroft says, “the focus is often on how much we do for individuals with disabilities; the real focus should be on how much we can learn from students who bring a different perspective.  I have learned so much about patience, resilience, and perseverance from our students.”
Director of Student Affairs Planning and Assessment Jess Manno said that institutions such as Lehigh are playing a key role in raising awareness.

"Though the ADA act has been in existence for 25 years, there are still many stigmas surrounding all types of disabilities,” Manno said.  “Because of those stigmas, and the often highly unseen nature of many disabilities, it is vitally important that as an educational institution, we continue to bring enlightenment to our community in an effort to diminish the inaccurate stereotypes and misconceptions."

The celebration at Lehigh is being led a committee that includes Ashcroft and Manno; Kelly Austin, assistant professor of sociology; Linda Bambara, professor of special education and autism researcher; Andrea Barker, assistant director of student activities; JoAnn DeSalvatore, coordinator in the chemistry department; Sarah Glickstein, graduate assistant in technology operations; Carol Hill, director of Student Center facilities; Stacey Kimmel-Smith, manager of student and general services in LTS; Pat Mann, director of admissions in the provost’s office; Cat Patterson, learning assistant in disability services; and Dolly Singley, a graduate student in special education and director of disability support services at Cedar Crest College.

The 25th ADA celebration at Lehigh is also being supported by the Provost’s Office, the Council for Equity and Community, Library and Technology Services, University Center Facilities, the College of Education, the Office of Student Activities, Lehigh Athletics, Auxiliary Services, and Cedar Crest College.

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