The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law in 1991. Peter Berns of the Arc discusses progress made and work still to be done since the law was enacted, and highlights people and organizations that are catalysts for inclusion. With Peter Berns, CEO of The ARC.
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Interview recorded on December 8, 2016. Read a partial transcript below:
Traynham: Over 25 years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law. While progress has been made, experts can agree that there is still a lot of work to be done. Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Robert Traynham. Joining me to share his insight is Peter Berns. He's the CEO of The Arc. Peter, welcome to the program.
Berns: It's nice to be here.
Traynham: So, I think we all remember President Bush signing the ADA -- Americans with Disabilities Act -- into law. At that time, it was pretty groundbreaking with respect to making sure that people with disabilities have the rights and can live in dignity with their fellow Americans. Fast-forward to today. Are we there yet, or is there still, as I mentioned a few moments ago, work to be done?
Berns: Really, still a lot of work to be done. We've made great progress. The organization that I'm from, The Arc, has been around for 65 years and working to promote and protect the civil rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities -- conditions like autism and Down syndrome and the like. And the ADA was a very important milestone in the history of creating rights for people with disabilities. And lots of things that have changed in the history of our organization. Once it was thought that people with disabilities -- intellectual disabilities -- really couldn?t work. Today, they are working in lots of jobs, but there's still massive unemployment. And once it was thought that people with disabilities couldn?t live independently in the community, and today, many are doing so.
Traynham: Peter, I want to stop you there for a second. You mentioned unemployment. Is it unemployment because of ignorance of the fact that this person may have a disability but is perceived not to be able to do the job? Or is it unemployment because, quite frankly, we simply cannot connect those dots between those who want to work and who can work?
Berns: Well, there are lots of people who want to work, who can work who can't find jobs, and some of that has to do with stigma. Some of that has to do with just perceptions that people with disabilities -- and people are perceived in terms of what they can't do, instead of what they can do. So it's complicated, and there's a lot of work that needs to be done to connect the dots to open up opportunities for employment with people with disabilities.
Traynham: And to that point, Peter, let's talk about some organizations that you're familiar with that actually are connecting those dots, that are not necessarily known as "disability organizations," but perhaps, maybe, it's the people that make this pen, or whatever the case may be, that is going above and beyond to make sure that people with disabilities are hired?
Berns: Yeah, well, absolutely. We created an awards program we call the Catalyst Awards to recognize exceptional companies that are doing just that. So one example would be Giant Eagle. It's a regional grocery chain in Pennsylvania and Ohio, more than 400 stores, and they made it a point as part of their business to reach out and try to hire people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to work in their stores. And so we recognized them with an award this year because they?ve been a real catalyst for change in the lives of people with disabilities.
Traynham: Very good to know. You know, there's a lot of other awards and programs that you have at The Arc, for example, the Author of the Year, the Television Show of the Year, as well as the Self Advocate of the Year. What are those programs?
Berns: Sure. The award we gave this year for Television Show of the Year was for "Born This Way," which is on the A&E network. It's a reality TV show that follows the lives of young adults with Down syndrome and their families. And it's really the first time on television you've seen a really serious effort to portray the day-in and day-out real life of individuals with significant disabilities and how they're seeking out in life everything that we're all seeking out in life -- love and opportunity to be employed and friendship and the like.
Traynham: And what about Self Advocate of the Year?
Berns: Self Advocate of the Year we gave to a young man named Connor Long this year, a young man with Down syndrome who also has had success as an actor in a number of films on his own. We gave him an award because he led an effort in Colorado to get legislation passed ...