Americans with Disabilities Act anniversary

The Rockford Park District celebrated the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, landmark legislation that opens the door for more than 49 million Americans, on July 26.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is one of the most compassionate and successful civil rights laws in American history. It has made our schools, workplaces and places for relaxation and entertainment more welcoming.

What is its impact? ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in every day activities, such as using the phone, buying groceries or any item at a store, going to a concert or the movies, riding a bus, applying and being hired for a job, enjoying a meal or “happy hour” at a local restaurant, playing golf or tennis, having the car serviced at a local garage, attending a day camp, etc.

The law established requirements for units of government and business of all sizes. Organizations that serve the public must modify policies and practices that discriminate against people with disabilities; comply with accessible design standards when constructing or altering facilities; remove barriers in existing facilities where readily achievable; and provide services, including auxiliary aids when needed to ensure effective communication with people who have hearing, vision, or speech impairments.

When ADA took effect in 1990, the Rockford Park District had programs already in place to serve people with disabilities at their facilities. Barb Baptista una Freund, senior manager of Community and Therapeutic Recreation, said, “We started levying the Special Recreation Tax in 1989 to continue implementing the plan we had already in place to best serve people with disabilities. ADA just clarified practices and made it quicker and easier for us to implement policies.”

Today, in celebration of ADA, the Rockford Park District is launching an Awareness Program to be based on the feedback received from the patrons in the next 13 days. For 13 years, the ADA has changed attitudes that once seemed unchangeable and has proven that when people are treated with dignity and respect, our entire nation benefits.

During the next 13 days, citizens are encouraged to point out efforts they observed or experienced in place throughout the park district that assure people of the intent of the district in welcoming and serving citizens with disabilities. The feedback will be available on the Rockford Park District Web site and will be used to refine a three-year plan to be recommended by staff to the Board of Commissioners, as a result of a failed referendum in April.

The feedback will also be shared with Governor Rod Blagojevich, who is being asked to sign SB 1881 that exempts from the PTELL (Property Tax Extension Limitation Law) aggregate, the levy used by park districts and municipalities to fund public recreation for persons with disabilities. Specifically, Blagojevich’s signature on SB 1881 will allow the opportunity for all Illinois park districts and municipalities to make a difference in the lives of citizens with disabilities through recreation.

SB 1881 will allow the Rockford Park District to enter many partnerships and collaborative efforts with communities in the area they decide to levy the tax for their residents. The Rockford Park District currently levies the Special Recreation Tax at a rate of $0.038.

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