Omaha Showcases 25 Years Of The ADA

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It's now been 25 years since former President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans With Disabilities Act into legislation.

While there were laws already in place before 1990 to make public areas accessible, it wasn't all encompassing. Plus, according to QLI Rehab physical therapist Brad Dexter, the burden of being accessible was on the individual with the disability.

"It kind of shifted the thought to. 'we should make things accessible in the community,'" he said. "The college campus the local grocery store, the sidewalk cutouts so we can cross the street downtown. Rather than putting it on the individual, it became a responsibility for society as a whole, too."

Taryn Schaaf sees it in her every day life. After an ATV accident in 2009, she's been paralyzed from about the chest down. But she doesn't let it stop her. Thanks to rehab through QLI, she now lives on her own.

Before the ADA, she's not sure she would have been able to do that.

"I’m living on my own now and it’s helped with accessibility to and from different places in Omaha: to get groceries, to go shopping, to go out, to do all the things I did before," she said.

In general, she and Dexter said Omaha is fairly accessible. For instance, Dexter said most architects and builders keep accessibility top of mind.

You can also see it in Omaha Parks. Newer parks are now barrier free with ramps, pathways and soft ground instead of wood chips. Any child can easily play.

Dexter said that's the key to trying to return to normal life.

"Normal isn’t just being cooped up in a house or in a nursing home somewhere," he said. "Normal is trying to do what you did before, maybe doing it a little bit differently, but having environments that are barrier free allows folks to get out."

But there are still some areas both Dexter and Schaaf said need to improve. The biggest issue-- finding affordable accessible housing.

Right now, Dexter said his clients often have trouble finding a place they can live on their own. He said sometimes it's even easier for them to just build their own house instead of trying to find something.

He suggested a tiered system of housing, so that anyone with any accessibility would be able to find something.

When Taryn was looking for her housing, she would run into issues almost immediately. She had to make sure her chair could fit through the doors and that there was enough space.

"My main concern was the bathroom was big enough to get my wheelchair in and out of it, so that was very difficult," she said. "Finding an apartment that had an elevator if there was not a first floor apartment."

Luckily for Taryn, her apartment complex was willing to make the necessary changes for her living conditions.

Now, she's a student at UNO looking to work as a rehab specialist for others with disabilities. Thanks to the ADA she can do just that.

Omaha is also celebrating the ADA on Friday, July 24. You can head out to Seymour Smith Park from 1 to 3 p.m. QLI is a partner in the event.

You can come out to see wheelchair sports demonstrations, get refreshments, and Mayor Jean Stothert will also speak.