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The Disability Diaries: 20 years of the ADA
August 23, 2010
by: Carrie Feibel
This year marks the 20th anniversary of an important civil rights law, the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA has made it easier for people with disabilities to take buses, go to movies, even vote. But the law was not a panacea. People with disabilities still struggle with poverty, isolation and unemployment. In the first story of a weeklong series, Carrie Feibel talks with one Houstonian about his disability — and his refusal to let it define him.
Ed Schorr works in a law office downtown. His troubles began in 1990, the same year Congress passed the ADA.
“The numbness went up the leg, and then it started in the other foot and went up that leg and I later got double vision and I was dropping things and I was later diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.”
Schorr braces himself against the car door as he maneuvers his legs beneath him. The multiple sclerosis has affected his legs more than his upper body
Schorr tried for as long as possible to stay on his feet.
“And I didn’t want to go to a walker, ‘cause with a cane I at least had one hand free to hold an umbrella or carry a book or something. With a walker it took both hands. But after I fell a few times with a cane, I went to a walker. Then I started falling even with the walker.”
Ten years ago, Schorr began using a wheelchair full-time. He could no longer drive and that also chipped away at his independence.
“I used to go to movies, I used to play volleyball, I used to go to lectures and slide shows.”
Schorr says the ADA has helped him keep working. His bosses understand if he needs to rearrange his workspace or wear special shoes. But he almost never goes out for fun. And it’s not just because he needs a ride.
“But more so it requires somebody to be able to pick up the chair, fold it up, put it in a vehicle, take it out again, and push me, sometimes up a hill or on carpet, or some distance, and it’s just — I just feel like it would be a burden on them.”
The ADA requires all public places, like museums, movie theaters, and schools, to be accessible to people with disabilities. But Schorr says the reality can be quite different.
Schorr heads to a doctor's visit. Although he can no longer walk, he can pull himself upright and then rotate his body into a car seat.
“They’ll have a sign saying they are handicap accessible, but they’re really not. You can’t get into the door to the stall, or if you can get in the door, there’s nothing to grab a hold of or if there is, it’s in the wrong place. There are places that I don’t go just because of the restroom.”
Schorr would never have chosen this life for himself, but he does see some good things in it.
“I met people that I wouldn’t have met before and I saw kindness in people that I probably wouldn’t have seen before, that people would go out of their way to be helpful. And, there were times that people would volunteer to do things that I didn’t really need done, but I let them do it because they felt good about it. And I also thought that if I told them “no,” that they may not offer to the next person they see that’s got a disability and that person might need it more than I do.”
But Schorr does not consider himself a disability activist. His passions are old movies, media coverage of Israel and Greek archaeology — which he studied in graduate school.
“I don’t feel any particular affinity to everybody else that’s in a wheelchair. I’m just an individual. These are the cards that I was dealt, and I’m just trying to deal with the situation as it exists.”
Ed Schorr says goodbye to his mother before leaving for a doctor's appointment.
Tomorrow, in the next part of our weeklong series, we’ll hear from more people with disabilities. And we’ll look closely at the connection between disability and unemployment.
Carrie Feibel KUHF News.