A Law with Teeth: The Reason I Won't Live Outside the U.S.

I've lived all over the place, and traveled past that. And while I deeply love the countries that raised me (namely, Fiji and Japan), I don't think I will ever live outside the United States again for any great length of time. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is why.

What does the ADA mean, exactly?

People get the ADA confused with all kinds of other equal-access laws. I did too, before it mattered all that much to me, or rather, before I realized that I had been putting up with a lot that I didn't have to.

The ADA, in a nutshell, means that people with disabilities have the legal right to what everyone else (without a disability) has. It seems like a small thing until it's not -- like, when I want Moxie to have access to an education. Or when I want to work and someone won't hire me because I am deaf, or because I need a particular phone to do my job.

The thing about many other countries is that while the culture in those countries might be more accepting of disability, point blank, the laws protecting legal access are simply not present. It's not all countries of course -- but many. So while I might be able to find a school that would welcome my daughter with Down syndrome, or find a job my own deaf self, there is nothing to bite with if there isn't the right policy."

The ADA Has Teeth

Stella Young, the well-loved Australian disability advocate, said that the beauty of the ADA was that it has teeth. She famously said that wheelchair users can sit and smile at stairs all they want and have the best attitude in the whole world, but it won't turn the stairs into a ramp. You are at the mercy of your great attitude without the ADA. You need to rely on the kindness and charity of others in order to be included and have access.

But with the ADA? You have an actual legal right to participate. You have the wherewithal and right to say, "hey, NO! I need to have an interpreter/ramp/large print/what-have-you in order to participate!"

We don't need to feel apologetic about putting people out anymore. Access is a legal right. We have the legal right to participate. We have the legal right to buy and sell and work and engage in mainstream American life.

I love Mexico and I think we may have thought about living there if we didn't have two people in the family with a disability. I need services like captioned telephone systems. I need interpreters at conferences and I need closed captions on videos, movies and all that good stuff in order to laugh at the jokes. My daughter's needs will be more clear with time, I'm sure -- for now it's support in school and speech therapy.

But I'll tell you this: I know how easy it is to acquire a disability. In one second, your life can radically change. You can be a kid - like I was - bouncing around on your seat in the car and in the next minute, you can go through the windshield and voila. You have joined the largest, most welcoming minority group in the world.

So while both my daughter and I need certain specifics related to our particular disabilities, I have my eyes on other disabilities as well. It's far better for us to have our feet firmly planted in the United States - the country in which we have actual legal rights related to disability. If we should be unable to walk at some point in our lives, or lose our vision or whatever else might happen, we'll be okay.

Because we have a right to access and participation here.

And I treasure it.


Meriah Nichols lives off the grid in Humboldt County, California for half the year and travels with her family for the other half. She is deaf and her daughter has Down syndrome. She lives in a yurt, has a lot of chickens and a camera. Visit her blog, A Little Moxie for more stories, including posts like 10 Dumb Things the Hearing Say to the Deaf, and 9 Reasons You DON'T Want to Take Your Kids to MexicoYou'll love it.