SAN ANTONIO — Although Sunday marks 30 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Melanie Cawthon says she is still fighting for the equitable rights people with disabilities deserve in San Antonio.
Cawthon is the co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit DisabilitySA. The organization connects people of all ages and types of disabilities to information on local resources.
“One in every seven people in San Antonio lives with a disability,” Cawthon said.
Her work wouldn't be possible without the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. The act was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of life. The purpose of the law is to make sure people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.
"It allowed us to have a springboard for moving forward. Now that we have recognized their equality as citizens, now it's time to work on the equity of including them in everyday life. So our organization works on that equitability and makes sure that individuals with disabilities have access to all of the things that other citizens in our community do. So the ADA was a good baseline and we have so much work left to do," she said.
Cawthon says the work is especially important in this time of COVID-19. Her organization has noticed the pandemic has set the disabilities community back.
"We need to look at access to health care. We need to look at access to education, to transportation, to employment," said Cawthon.
She even hopes others will consider wearing transparent face masks.
"Covering up your mouth eliminates communication. It puts up a barrier to clear communication to individuals living with a hearing impairment or even individuals with autism who really depend on facial expression for communication," Cawthon said. "Some of the other areas are the fear of a loved one going into the hospital. Are they getting equitable health services? And two, are they able to have representation and the caregiving that they need to come with them into the hospital setting?"
While awareness is important, taking action is vital to change. In an effort to strengthen the ADA and its protections during COVID-19, the nonprofit is working around the clock in hopes of contributing to meaningful change.
“Let's make sure that our residents in San Antonio with a disability aren’t being left behind,” Cawthon said.
To learn more about DisabilitySA and its services, visit its website.