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A reminder how the political system once worked for common good

June 25, 2018 GMT

This nation faces serious challenges, no doubt. Yet a partisan divide on many issues borders on the tribal. “You’re either for us or against us,” seems to be the attitude among many on both sides of the political divide, leaving no room for compromise.

It is nice to remember, then, that in the not so distant past Republicans and Democrats were able to agree on big policies that fundamentally changed the nation for the better. Two related stories that graced the pages on The Day on Sunday, one locally produced by this newspaper and one generated by The Washington Post, provide an update on one such continuing success.

Our local story detailed the community coming together in support of constructing a “Miracle League Field” that will allow more children with disabilities to participate in youth sports. The Washington Post story detailed the growing number of Americans with physical and developmental disabilities joining the workforce.

In both instances, it is hard to imagine such progress without the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. The civil rights law prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation and all public and private places that are open to the public.

It guarantees equal opportunity and physical access for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.

A generation of children has grown into adulthood with ADA, attending schools and moving into workplaces in which interaction with people with disabilities was the norm. That, sad to concede, was not the case with earlier generations. Our nation is a better place for this policy shift.

When passed in 1990, a Republican sat in the White House, President H.W. Bush, and the Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress. Many in the business community expressed concerns about the high costs to accommodate people with disabilities, but compassion prevailed.

In signing the act into law, President Bush acknowledged the concerns, but declared, “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”

It is hard to imagine the nation going back to a time when it did not do all it reasonably could to accommodate people with disabilities.

And those recent stories show the efforts continue.

While local athletic facilities need to meet the ADA, playing fields by the nature of the sports they host are not well suited for young people with developmental and physical challenges. Enter the Miracle League Field movement, with special playing surfaces and other amenities to better accommodate children in wheelchairs or using walkers or dealing with other challenges.

Connecticut has one such field, which opened in West Hartford in 2012 and has proved popular. Now East Lyme Parks and Recreation Director David Putman, who is also executive director of the Miracle League of Southeastern Connecticut, is heading up the effort to plan and raise funding for such a field behind the Flanders Elementary School in that town.

Funds for constructing the field are being raised privately and it would serve the region.

“A big thing we have learned through this is how much impact this has on the families, not only the children that participate … but the families that get to watch their kids have a chance to play,” Putman told Day Staff Writer Kimberly Drelich.

To find out how you can help visit www.mlsect.org or call Putman at 860-739-5828.

Meanwhile came the encouraging news from the Washington Post that the jobless rate for workers with disabilities has reached historic lows, falling faster than among the general population, down 2.5 percentage points over the past year to 7 percent. The statistics include those who are employed or actively seeking employment.

The share of working-age people with disabilities in the United States who are employed is also at record levels, nearing 30 percent. Wages are growing for this group and laws allowing below-minimum-wage pay for people with disabilities are eroding state by state.

Some of this is connected to the extremely low unemployment rate of 3.8 percent nationally, a number not seen in 50 years, and which is even lower in many states. Businesses need to find workers, providing more opportunities for people with disabilities.

But it also has to do with a generation of young people who grew up with the expectation that all are welcomed and deserve an opportunity to contribute to the level they can.

And it began with the political parties working together with a willingness to push past the fears of special interests.