National Barrier Awareness Day puts spotlight on people with disabilities

Updated on 05/18/21


People with disabilities have come a long way when it comes to physical and legal access, but disability representatives and advocates will say more is needed.

It’s why May 7 is a special day for people with disabilities, a date known as National Barrier Awareness Day.

On May 7, 1986, former President Ronald Reagan issued Proclamation 5472, which recognizes the day with events and programs that would contribute to removing the obstacles facing those with disabilities. Congress also officially declared the date as “National Barrier Awareness Day.”

“This day is a really great opportunity for people to sort of take a look at their own beliefs and think about the ways in which our community may not be fully accessible for everyone,” said Ally McCabe, education advocacy coordinator at Access to Independence of Cortland County, Inc.

She added, “It is an opportunity for our community to think about the ways we may not provide full access for all of our community members with disabilities.”

The American With Disabilities Act of 1990, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability, opened the door for opportunities for people with disabilities.

Even with the law enacted, McCabe believes there is “still huge room for improvement.”

One improvement is physical accessibility for local community spaces. McCabe said “someone in a wheelchair has a lot of barriers.”

McCabe followed up with us and continued by saying, “People who use wheelchairs face many barriers to physical access. Wheelchairs and other mobility devices are not barriers themselves; they provide independence for the people who use them. However, if there is an open door at the top of a flight of stairs, those stairs present a barrier. That’s the most generic example of just one of many different types of barriers that people with disabilities face to full participation in their communities on a daily basis.”

“Using a wheelchair is not a barrier, but steps to an open door is a barrier,” she added. “It’s a generic example of someone who’d be able to fully participate in the community.”

McCabe said attitudinal judgement when it comes to hiring for a job is an issue people with disabilities face on a regular basis.

“Sometimes a hiring manager has an incorrect belief that people with disabilities are unable to work as complete as their non-disabled peers,” she added. “A disabled person may be qualified, but overlooked for the position.”

Tackling these issues locally is what Access to Independence -- a non-profit independent living center run by people with disabilities for people with disabilities -- strives to accomplish.

A cross disability organization that serves people with all types of disabilities for all ages, ATI works on issues of housing, employment and emergency preparedness.

“We have a number of community coalitions that work on issues like these,” McCabe said.

McCabe mentioned all of next week is statewide Legislative Disability Week, which addresses issues with local legislators.

Local residents who want to volunteer as advocates for ATI can either contact McCabe, sign up in-person at the ATI office or register on the organization’s website at