East: 23 years of progress

BY KRISTEN EAST | JULY 26, 2013 5:00 AM

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My brother can recite Robert De Niro’s entire filmography by memory.

More impressively, he recalls and reels off monologues from such movies as Raging Bull and Taxi Driver with ease. I believe he sometimes may act out the movies in his sleep. When I’m home, I can hear the faint sounds of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and Frank Sinatra  — classic soundtrack selections for any De Niro film — resonate through the drywall between our bedrooms, his baritone pipes following the melody not quite on key. Needless to say, he’s a huge fan.

And it’s not just De Niro. It’s Joe Pesci and Chazz Palminteri. It’s Goodfellas and Scarface. He loves movies; it’s his livelihood. In some ways, it’s an escape from reality.

Through repetition (meaning he’s seen most movies more than 20 times each, at least), he’s amassed quite a wealth of knowledge about these legendary actors and their films.

What doesn’t render so well in his memory are the times tables or the spelling of common words. These are things that, for the average human being, come naturally; these are word and numbers and skill sets learned in elementary school, improved upon in middle school, and perfected in high school. For those with cognitive and intellectual disabilities, the narrative is a little different.

Learning the basics requires a little more time and attention, as well as a great deal of focus and commitment to absorbing the material at hand.

Where the times tables came naturally to me as a child, I often sat with my brother — three years my senior — working on the same problem sets. At a certain point, my studies surpassed his. I was learning trigonometry while he was working through long-division problems.

While I often helped him with his studies, Bobby has ended up teaching me a great deal more than I could have ever taught him.

He’s taught me patience in its simplest form, to accept the things that I cannot change as he lives every day like any other human being in spite of his cognitive setbacks. He recognizes that he has a difficult time doing things I would otherwise do with ease, but he doesn’t believe that he’s different. And he’s not.

My brother turned 23 this year. The Americans with Disabilities Act also celebrates 23 years in 2013, with the anniversary of its signing falling on today’s date.

The act “prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.” Our very own U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, wrote the bill.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, approximately 56.7 million Americans live with some sort of disability. That’s roughly 20 percent of the nation’s population who, because of the ADA, enjoy the same rights as Americans of all abilities.

For 23 years, the United States has made tremendous progress in providing more opportunities to those with any kind of intellectual or physical disability.

Because of the ADA, my brother has been able to maintain a steady job. At first, I didn’t know how the other employees would accept him, or if he’d even be able to adjust to the atmosphere.

Now, more than two years later, he’s got a few employee-of-the-month awards under his belt and makes more money than he even knows how to spend.

I’ve seen him grow as a person, more social and organized in every way. He still loves his movies, but he spends more time hanging out with friends on the weekend than with the television set.

All of his co-workers embrace him not only as a valued member of the team but also as a friend.

And they all know what his favorite De Niro movie is.

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