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July 24, 2020
The Arc of Dreams will light up this weekend as part of several days of special events marking the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The civil rights act prevents discrimination against those with disabilities and requires accommodations for employees and students with disabilities.
For Kendra Gottsleben, the changes have been life-changing. A marketing communications specialist at USD’s Center for Disabilities, she was diagnosed at age 4 with Mucopolysaccharidosis type VI, a genetic condition that causes many tissues and organs to enlarge and become inflamed or scarred.
Gottsleben said she feels lucky to have been born when she was because she grew up after the act became law and was able to receive benefits that those in the disabled community before her were unable to receive.
“The ADA has given those of us with disabilities more access to be educated, to be involved in our communities and to be treated like everyone else,” Gottsleben said.
“For me, the importance of the ADA is realizing that a person with a disability is no different than another person that doesn’t have a disability,” she said. “They may have a few more barriers, but bottom line, they want to be loved. They want to have friends. They want a family. You know, we all want the same things. Sometimes, (there are) a few more barriers in our way to achieve those.”
With the 30th anniversary approaching, Brett Glirbas, founder of grant-writing company Achievable Ventures, reached out to Gottsleben and other members of the disabled community to help form a Sioux Falls ADA 30th anniversary celebration committee.
Another member of the committee is Vicki Kerkvliet, the executive director of the Business Resource Network since 2016. Kerkvliet, who has used a wheelchair for much of her life, has worked in the nonprofit and state government worlds for the past 25 years, advocating for full inclusivity for people with disabilities.
Her work at the Business Resource Network involves promoting the employment of people with disabilities at local businesses. Kerkvliet said she hopes the anniversary of ADA will bring the importance of employing those with disabilities to the forefront of local business owners’ minds.
“One of the main goals of the committee … is really trying to make businesses more aware that the ADA has been around for 30 years now, and so hopefully they’re doing all that they can to make their place of business more accessible,” Kerkvliet said. “It’s not only good for their employees with disabilities, but it’s also good for their customers.”
Before COVID-19, the ADA committee had plans for more interactive, in-person events. Initial plans included an event where attendees could try on special goggles that simulate visual impairment and attempt to navigate through a crowd in a wheelchair. Gottsleben said this event was designed to let people get a sense of what life is like for those with disabilities. The committee also had planned to sponsor an event at Levitt at the Falls, which became a virtual event.
Despite the pandemic, the committee still has plans to celebrate the anniversary in Sioux Falls this weekend through partnerships with local businesses.
Marsh & McLennan Agency will host a 90-minute virtual summit on the ADA anniversary at 9 a.m. today. To register, click here.
Oh My Cupcakes will sell a specially designed ADA cupcake Saturday, and Obscure Brewing Co. will release Accessible Ale on Sunday. The committee also has put together an online apparel store with ADA merchandise, including shirts, mugs and totes.
Sponsored by the Business Resource Network, the Arc of Dreams will be lit up from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday night in celebration of the anniversary. In a few weeks, the committee also will have an interactive booth at dowsntown’s First Friday East Bank Block Party on Aug. 7.
While the goal of the committee ultimately is to celebrate the past 30 years of improved rights for the disabled community, Gottsleben and Kerkvliet also hope it raises awareness of what still needs to be done. Kerkvliet said the unemployment rate of people with disabilities remains double that of those without disabilities, a number backed up by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Gottsleben wants to see an improved representation of the those with disabilities in the media and more wheelchair accessibility in buildings.
With increased awareness, Gottlseben and Kerkvliet said they hope the next 30 years of ADA are even better than the first.
“I think even though a lot of physical barriers have been broken down, there still are a lot of attitudinal barriers out there,” Kerkvliet said. “I think it’s really important to acknowledge and celebrate 30 years of having the Americans with Disabilities Act, but in some ways, I think it’s a good reminder to us that even though we’ve come a long way, we still have a lot of work to do.”
It’s a big milestone that also brings a reminder there’s more work to be done. Help mark 30 years for the Americans with Disabilities Act starting today.