One of the nation's 10 regional Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) technical assistance centers, the Northeast ADA Center, is based at the Employment and Disability Institute in ILR.
The legislation that turns 20 years old on July 26 opened the door for creating this information network, said ADA Technical Assistance Coordinator Erin Sember of the Northeast ADA Center at ILR.
"The National Network of ADA centers provides information, guidance and training on the Americans with Disabilities Act and is tailored to meet the needs of business, government and individuals at local, regional and national levels," she said in an interview.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research, each regional center serves specific states and territories, Sember said.
The Northeast ADA Center serves New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Through the network’s toll-free information line (800-949-4232) and national web site (www.adata.org), "anyone in the country can access their region’s ADA center to receive information, education, training and material in a personalized manner to better understand their rights and responsibilities under the ADA," Sember said.
"Your regional ADA center is one of the few places where you can call the 800 number and actually get a live person to help you," she said.
"We are not an enforcement agency, nor do we investigate complaints," Sember said.
"Rather, we are here to be a neutral resource that tries to help employers, businesses, people with disabilities and others to make sense of the ADA and the regulations associated with it."
"Our aim, through the phone line, trainings we conduct and other resources we offer, is to further everyone's understanding of the ADA and improve overall disability awareness and inclusiveness."
The federal legislation, Sember said, has changed the way many Americans think about disabilities.
"Before the ADA, disability accessibility was typically a reaction in response to a specific situation. If a valued worker needed accommodations due to an injury, for instance, a business owner might react by making the workplace accessible," she said.
"When the ADA became law, it opened the door to much more information sharing among organizations and individuals in terms of calling upon us all to be more proactive instead of reactive, and to know our rights and responsibilities with regards to creating accessible environments."
"As a result, spaces are now built to be inviting and accessible to employees, patrons and others with disabilities, whether or not the accommodations are immediately needed," Sember said.
"The growing number of building ramps and curb cuts at businesses and workplaces are tangible signs that the ADA impacts the way we live and think. Disability inclusive attitudes, language and practices are also instrumental in improving accessibility."
"Like everyone else, people with disabilities want to be able to access information and buildings, whether to work, shop, go to school, participate in community activities, etcetera," Sember said. "The ADA is helping make that an automatic reality."