Karen Vaughn - ADA Interview
“I learned that there were more than just rights," recalled disability advocate Karen Vaughn of the era immediately after passage of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). "We had civil rights on just about every level.” After acquiring a disability from an injury in the 1970s, she had spent time in nursing homes and "there were no patients' rights." Karen was one of the first graduates of the leadership training program Partners in Policymaking, brought to Indiana in 1991 by the Governor's Council for People with Disabilities. In 1992, she also completed "the most elite training on the ADA that you can get" from the national Disability Rights Education Defense Fund.
Karen describes the thrill of making a difference in the accessibility of a state park after her training. A wheelchair user, she had gone "where raccoons wouldn't go" to assess its ADA compliance. She describes the physical access barriers she’s experienced in her home town of Indianapolis, and the tools needed to remove such barriers. “Knowing about the Americans with Disabilities Act is not enough. You have to know about the other laws.”
The ADA has been “life changing” for her, but she feels it has its limitations. “Under Title II with the Americans with Disabilities Act, state and local government, they're supposed to provide the same program for all folks with disabilities.” Karen found that her career goal of working as a consultant was thwarted by Medicaid policy, despite having undertaken an extensive legal battle.
She would like to see more education about the law provided to the public. Her doctor thought the ADA referred to the American Dental Association. She asserts, “I would like to see this Americans with Disabilities Act and all other civil rights laws being a mandatory course in high school, just like history.” Karen was interviewed in 2009.
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