Americans with Disabilities Act hits 21st anniversary with celebration in Eastern Iowa


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Swishing from side to side, Andy Yohe, wearing a white No. 19 jersey, fired a hockey puck across the rink and into the goal.

Shoppers passing by the Coral Ridge hockey rink stopped to watch the seemingly familiar game.

But for this match, players skated across the ice by sled and not foot.

Tuesday is the 21st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the celebration kicked off with a Quad City Sled Hockey Association exhibition game on July 23.

The act, a landmark civil-rights law, protects wheelchair users and other people with disabilities from discrimination.

"Discrimination and stereotyping still exist," said Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, at the event. "It is so important that federal law unequivocally specifies the rights of people with disabilities to live and work in their communities and enjoy the same access to community resources as everyone else." 

Yohe, a 33-year-old Bettendorf resident, agreed.

"Everybody can find something they can enjoy," he said, his legs strapped to the tubular metal-framed sled. "There's something out there for everybody."

As a teenager, Yohe lost parts of both legs, above the right knee and below the left, when he was run over by a train near the Mississippi River.

Having led the U.S. in a gold-medal win at the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, he understands the importance of giving disabled people equal opportunities in life.

"Just give it a shot," he said. "No matter the ability."

Many organizations similar to the Sled Hockey Association work to provide the same benefits for athletes with disabilities as other sports can provide for others.

Sujit Singh, 28, associate director of operations for Access2Independence, helped plan the event in a "venue for everyone to see" this year.

"The basics of disabilities are what people know, and we have an event like this to let people know that there are more to disabilities than the stereotype," said Singh, who has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. "[Our goal] is to bring disabilities awareness to the forefront."

The number of students enrolled at the University of Iowa who reported disabilities has increased 28 percent in the past four years, according to a report presented to the state Board of Regents.

Roughly 658 students with disabilities were enrolled in 2010.

Iowa City Mayor Matt Hayek said he was proud to be a part of a community which he feels embraces the law and spirit of the act.

"The impact and implementation by and large occurs on a local basis throughout the efforts of local builders and governments to improve accessibility and make the community a more welcoming place," he said.

Though milestones have been made since the legislation passed, many agreed there's room for improvement.

"What good is the [act], if you can't get the right equipment?" said Jennifer Wolff, Ms. Wheelchair Iowa 2011.

She is pushing for more accessibility options moving forward.

"[Today] is celebrating the inclusion of people with disabilities in environment and culture," she said. "But we still have a long way to go."

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