When President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law, he remarked that everyone with a disability could now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality. Meaningful changes have happened in the 24 years since, but the ADA’s intent hasn’t been fully realized in many areas. For example, in the field of advanced education, scholars with disabilities are still struggling with physical barriers, negative attitudes from nondisabled colleagues, lack of programmatic accommodations and discrimination in employment. It may be surprising that these civil rights violations still occur, but a handful of advocates are fighting to change things for the better.
Bill Peace, 53, a full-time wheelchair user, has spent his academic life as a theoretical anthropologist and bioethicist since earning his doctorate from Columbia University in 1992. Being a distinguished scholar has not kept him from having to battle academic organizations over barriers, misconceptions and stereotypes. Peace says little progress has been made in academia over the years, and an incident that happened recently illustrates that point.
In fall of 2013 he attended an academic conference on disability, bioethics and the humanities at Hobart William Smith College. When he arrived, he found three steps at the entrance of the building where he was to speak. He was stunned. “Not one scholar, people supposedly interested in disability and health care, wondered about the ADA or how a person such as myself who uses a wheelcha