By Kim Stephens
This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Many people may think, “Well, that’s nice, but that doesn’t really impact me.”
That’s the way I felt until one moment almost two and a half years ago. That was the moment my two-year old son was diagnosed with a life-threatening, progressive disease – Hunter Syndrome. From that moment on he was a child with a disability, and I became a special needs mom.
I’ve always been a strong supporter of people with disabilities. I worked for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society for three years, and for almost four years, I was a part of IBM’s AccessibilityCenter, now called the Human Ability and Accessibility Center. But until that moment in the doctor’s office when the full impact of raising a child with a disability came crashing down on me, it wasn’t personal. Now it is.
As the IBM Global Diversity and Inclusion Education Lead, I have a mission, but as a staunch supporter of equal rights and accessibility, I have a passion. That passion is fueled by the thought that someday my child will grow up and enter the workforce. This is my hope, and it’s a hope that goes against the very nature of his disease. But fighting for my son’s future is my job as a parent and as an advocate for people with disabilities.
With my job role, I can work within a large corporation to help create solutions for people with disabilities and raise awareness. Early in my career I worked on IBM Home Page Reader, one of the first talking Web browsers for people who are blind or visually impaired.
I helped create Web accessibility guidelines when we were all still hand coding HTML.
So what will I do next? I’m still knee-deep in technical solutions, but I want to go deeper. I want to tap into the unconscious biases that we all have about people with disabilities and anyone that is different from us. I want to help people slow down and think about the viewpoints and lens that they use to separate and distance themselves from those around them.
I want to make it just a little bit easier for my son when he enters the workforce or just kindergarten later this year. I want so much for him, just like we all want so much for our children.
So in this anniversary year of the ADA, take a moment to think about what you can do to make life easier for people with disabilities — because in a moment your whole life can change – you or a person you love could suddenly be a person with a disability.