Intern Project Spotlight: 'Remembering the Americans with Disabilities Act'

A Reflection by MPAC Intern Aseel Abulhab

August 15, 2014

I initially decided to intern at MPAC in order to gain policy experience and learn how the government works in our nation’s bustling capital. However, what I soon discovered was that these connections could be a platform to further delve into my passion for the Deaf community. With the support of the MPAC staff and fellow interns, I began to research the Americans with Disabilities Act, met influential people in the Deaf world, and looked into local organizations like Global Deaf Muslim. 

On July 26, 1990, a man communicated groundbreaking news to his deaf brother. He interacted with him like he always had -- and to all those with deaf loved ones, the scene was completely ordinary. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), who engineered the ADA and sponsored it in the Senate, was that man and he was driven with a desire to ensure that people like his brother would receive fair and equal attention under the law.

Since its creation, the ADA has positively impacted countless American lives, from protection against job discrimination to assistance with completing standard tasks. I had the opportunity to speak with Danilo Torres, International Liaison Specialist at Gallaudet University, who further enlightened me on the benefits of the ADA. As an immigrant from Colombia who came to the United States to study, he holds both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree and now works for Gallaudet. He informed me that he has witnessed first-hand the impact of ADA there. In fact, the ADA, which mandates the establishment of video relay services - VRS, is what made our connection possible.

When we are distanced from the triumph of those with disabilities, it is easy to lose sight of its priority. On this 24th anniversary of the Act, however, we should all take a minute to count our blessings and empathize with what some of our brothers and sisters face every day.

It may not be the most popular issue in the American Muslim community, but Islam provides us with important instructions when it comes to disabilities. While the Quran states, “Deaf, dumb and blind - so they will not return [to the right path]” (2:18), it is not an assault on those who have lost any of their senses. It is instead a condemnation against those who consciously reject Islam by closing their eyes, minds, and hearts to its truth. It is important not to conflate the two, given that any other disability is God’s will – and therefore, our responsibility to embrace.

With all of the resources available to us, it is our responsibility to relay that objective. Next time you see a Deaf family communicating using Sign Language, a blind person stopping to read Braille, or a man in a wheelchair, take a moment to appreciate the feat. Take a moment to walk in their shoes and soak in the beauty of triumph.

While the word “disability” has negative connotations, it is worth noting this community’s ability to take back their rights. This community has wrung out inclusive governmental policies and has held its government accountable for its shortcomings, paving the way for substantive progress. As American Muslims, this should not only resonate with us, but also inspire a positive attitude towards our brothers and sisters with disabilities.

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