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Steve Bartlett listening to RespectAbility Spring 2020 Fellows seated around a table

Rep. Bartlett Challenges RespectAbility Fellows to Take Charge of Their Lives

Rockville, Maryland, April 22 – One of the political visionaries behind the Americans with Disabilities Act, former Congressman Steve Bartlett, visited a new cohort of RespectAbility Fellows to discuss vision of a different sort. Bartlett also is chairman of RespectAbility, a nonprofit that fights stigmas and advances opportunities so people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community.

“I challenge you to think about what you want your life to be like, feel like, and how you want it to be structured, ten years from today,” Rep. Bartlett said. “Then peel that back to ninety days. And if that’s how you want your life to be in the next ninety days, why would you spend any resources today that don’t take you to that purpose?”

And part of that purpose, he advised, should be to serve others by fighting against stigmas and helping people with disabilities find employment. They are challenges Bartlett met by co-sponsoring the ADA, and that the new RespectAbility Fellows have tried to meet over the past several months.

Bartlett’s observation about employment connects with RespectAbility’s focus on fighting stigmas. He understands that accommodations are not just about physical changes or costs to the employer, but about changes in understanding, too. “The basis of the ADA is ‘reasonable accommodations,’ it’s about identifying a living function and lifestyle, and making an accommodation so someone can get there.”

When Bartlett started his career in politics on the Dallas City Council in 1977, he noticed that “in many cases the barriers to disabled people living full lives are often government themselves.” He saw it, for instance, in the management of Dallas’ bus system for people with disabilities. While the city did offer on-demand buses for people with disabilities, the system’s execution often failed the people the bus line was supposed to help. When Bartlett looked into the system, he found the “on-demand” system only provided disabled people with a two-hour window when the bus might arrive, and drivers often didn’t even meet that window. Bartlett noted that a two-hour window is too long, and people would often not get to work on time.

Bartlett found similar issues at the federal level when he was elected representative of Texas’ third district in 1983. For instance, if someone on SSI gets a job, they stop receiving benefits. If they lose that job, however, they did not get reinstated in SSDI. “Employment has been the toughest nut to crack” in disability advocacy, Bartlett said, “because it’s also about attitudes, and because employment conditions are set for the non-disabled world.” This was the problem that led him to be one of the main sponsors of the American Disabilities Act of 1990.

The 11 new RespectAbility Fellows took Bartlett’s message to heart as they worked to solve similar problems. Over the last four months, the new cohort of Fellows have learned about RespectAbility’s vision of advocating for members of the disability community, particularly the 66 percent of people with disabilities who are unemployed. RespectAbility’s vision corresponds with that of the ADA, and one that increases the number of people with disabilities in the workforce.

Steve Bartlett with RespectAbility Staff and Spring 2020 Fellows smiling in front of the RespectAbility banner

Steve Bartlett with RespectAbility Staff and Spring 2020 Fellows

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RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so that people with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of community. This spring, 11 Fellows have the opportunity to learn from a variety of guest speakers. Learn more about the National Leadership Program and apply for the next cohort! Contact BenS@RespectAbility.org for more information.

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Meet the Author

Geoff Hoppe
Geoff Hoppe

Geoff Hoppe is interested in framing discussions about diversity and inclusion through the lens of neurodiversity. He has experience teaching at the college, high school, and middle school levels.

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