Personal Story

Impact Feature Issue on the ADA and People with Intellectual Developmental, and Other Disabilities

What I've Learned From the ADA

Hunter Sargent, a community leader and self-advocate living in the Twin Cities, was interviewed in February 2015 about what the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has meant in his life. Below are the thoughts he shared during that interview at the Institute on Community Integration. Video clips of the interview can be found at Self-Advocacy Online.

The Americans with Disabilities Act means that I get to participate politically as well as community-wise in discussions regarding things involving people like myself with intellectual and developmental disabilities, like our right to live in the community, be removed from the institutions, and be part of the decisions that are made with regard to us. It has helped me learn how to advocate for myself and not be afraid, and to know that when it comes to advocating for your rights you’ve got to be patient, and follow-up and stay in touch with your legislators and lawmakers. The ADA has helped me live successfully in the community. It has helped me to gain access to programs like the First Time Homebuyers program, and just basically finally live independently in the community without any discrimination or unnecessary challenges.

I think self-advocates should care about the ADA because of the long, hard road we had to go down to reach this point in history in our country. It’s this that has helped us stay more politically active and more involved in our communities. And it has helped us and strengthened us to overcome our own fears about whether or not we fit in. We’ve become stronger by trying really hard not to worry about what people think of us. We realize that we just have to teach people about how to diversify our adaptations, being people with disabilities, and people of different ethnic backgrounds, and how all those challenges are pretty much the same and we’re really not much different. We just have an adaptive lifestyle. The adaptation I have is that I have staff that work with me and I stay involved with self-advocacy.

I’ve worked on so many different ways to communicate respect for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, like getting rid of the “R” word. I have a family member who’s said, “Well I’m sorry but I can’t change my vocabulary.” You can change your vocabulary, it is possible. You need to be mindful of that with me having a disability as well as my auntie. My auntie’s not verbal when it comes to saying how she feels; I’m kind of giving a voice to the voiceless and giving a voice to those who feel they’re not heard.

I see the ADA as a civil rights act because we literally have to fight to maintain our rights as people with intellectual and developmental disabilities just like everyone else does. I shouldn’t say fight, I should say continually educate our politicians because if I say fight it’s like saying we don’t get what we want, and we do get what we want because we learn how to express our emotions, with respect, but in political language. This is the other thing the ADA has taught me, how to talk multiple different languages – to still be me but to talk in different environments. Like when I talk with my representatives I’ve got to talk politics for them to understand me, but do so in a way that I understand, too. The same is true when I talk with the State and County.

Without the ADA I don’t think I’d be where I am today. It is so cool to see the changes. Sixty or seventy years ago people were institutionalized, not heard, left in a corner and forgotten about, and look at us now. We’re happily married, we’re playing regular sports, we’re doing our life like everybody else does. Adaptations make us stronger, not weaker. There are some days when I love speaking up for my rights as a person with an intellectual disability, and other days when I wish I could just sit back and watch and see that my voice is strong enough that I don’t need to keep repeating myself. You find yourself being a good strong self-advocate, and then you find yourself asking why don’t they just get it. It doesn’t change, it’s grown, but it hasn’t changed. On the flip side of that, I’ve learned with politics and being involved that things are forever changing. You get new leaders, new people who have no idea what this is all about, or about the struggles we’ve been through in the past 60 years. For me it’s painful to even have to go down that road to get my point across, but at the same time I’m stronger. I can tell you that when I was first going into the community I was trying to fit into every environment, but it didn’t really fit because it wasn’t me. I know how they say sometimes you need to change the way you think in each environment. It’s hard for me to do anything without being me. And the me that I am is sometimes I’m spiritual. I’m Native, and my heritage comes out in everything I do and that’s what makes me so passionate about everything I do. Spirituality helps me accept the unfortunate challenges we face as people with disabilities, too. You can have all the political lingo you want, but if you don’t have some form of spirituality or some form of your culture in you, you tend to lose your way.

Over the next 25 years of the ADA I want to see us grow stronger, and continue to be louder and more present, and be very persistent in making sure that our rights are protected. I want us to stay involved in our communities and continue the importance of inclusion, not exclusion, because that’s what keeps us strong.