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Tom Harkin's Blog

Guthrie County - Melissa Lewis

Sen. Harkin’s staffer Jule Reynolds met with Melissa Lewis about how the ADA had affected her life. Her story is below.

Melissa Lewis

My ADA Story:

Iowans are taking part in “Celebrate Ability” to mark the 20th anniversary of the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). I can definitely take part in the celebration and vouch that the ADA is a stepping stone to encourage participation and access for individuals with disabilities in the mainstream. The ADA has also led to the implementation of Iowa laws to facilitate accommodations in various settings.

As a deaf individual, looking back over the past 20 years, I have been able to obtain accommodations as a college student, professional and mother. With the assistance of an attorney, my family and I were able to successfully advocate for qualified sign language interpreters to be provided for my college courses while at the University of Iowa. In addition, note takers were provided for my courses. I also obtained qualified sign language interpreters for my Masters courses at a university in Illinois. All these accommodations were provided by the universities and they allowed me to fully participate in a setting to achieve my educational goals.

As a health care professional, I was able to obtain qualified sign language interpreters to attend continuing education seminars and conferences. The ADA is a starting point to obtain accommodations in the work-field. The reason I say this is that some employers will find a way around having to provide accommodations due to the expense. For example, I was not being sent to attend on-site meetings so the employer could avoid providing and paying for an interpreter.

After working as a health care professional, I decided to pursue my goal of becoming an attorney in order to help serve and advocate for the deaf community. The law school I attended was very familiar with the ADA and how to provide accommodations for students who were deaf. The school’s familiarity with, and willingness to provide the services, allowed me to enjoy being a student and not have to worry too much about wearing my advocacy hat.

As an attorney at the Beverly Wild Law Office, P.C. in Iowa, I have been practicing to serve clients who are hearing and deaf. The fellow attorneys and staff have been very supportive of me in obtaining accommodations and setting up my office with a CapTel and videophone.

After setting up my office, it was a huge challenge trying to figure out who to contact to request and obtain accommodations for courtroom procedures. After figuring out the logistics, the ADA and Iowa laws have helped me obtain real time translating without taxing the county where the Courthouse is located. One prevalent issue I have seen throughout my experiences with the ADA is accountability for the funding of the accommodations. However, the ADA allows for an individual with a disability who is willing to advocate for and obtain accommodations if they are not being provided according to the laws.

In my personal life, the ADA has helped me obtain the necessary technology, at no expense due to grants, to make the necessary calls to schedule appointments for my son and myself. I am able to communicate by phone to hearing and deaf individuals by CapTel, Sorenson VRS, and Relay. Also, I am able to attend selected interpreted plays and captioned movies at theaters. The only downside is that only selected plays are interpreted and only selected movies are open captioned.

Overall, the ADA has been a starting point for advocacy and services to be provided to individuals with disabilities like myself. The ADA recognizes the ability of individuals with disabilities to be part of the mainstream. This is why I am taking part in the Ability Celebration of the ADA.

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