The Arc Mid-South and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Highlights from ADA Celebration 2018

Memphians with disabilities and their supporters gathered recently to celebrate the 28th anniversary of the federal law that made society more inclusive and improved the lives of millions of people with disabilities.

“President Bush said the ADA signing was one of the top highlights of his administration,” MCIL consumer advocate Christina Clift told the July 26 gathering at Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library. “It’s an act we have to continue fighting to maintain so that our civil rights are not eroded.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications and governmental activities. It is why such things as MATAPlus, automatic doors, and sidewalks with curb cuts exist today.

Matthew Jones, quality manager at The Hershey Company, discussed the Abilities First program that his employer started in 2012. Through it, people with disabilities are hired to perform the same jobs, for the same pay and benefits, as their non-disabled peers. Hershey also provides a job coach for the worker’s first six months to ensure that she/he becomes acclimated to the company, its policies and procedures.

“These are good jobs, too, paying $16 and $17 an hour,” said Carlene Leaper, executive director of The Arc Mid-South, which has placed several clients at Hershey.

Timothy Redd, who uses a wheelchair, was born with a rare brittle-bone disease. He said he didn’t realize “that I was much different from anyone else until I entered school….As a person with a disability, you learn to adapt and also realize that you have to be strong.”

After recounting his struggle with Type 2 diabetes, Reid advised the audience to “look within yourself, find your vision and create the life you want.”

Geno Hall Jr., a soft-spoken visually impaired 14-year-old, and his mother Alicia spoke about the five surgeries that left Geno blind in one eye. “I am not blind, I still can see,” he insisted at age 8, to which she replied that with such an attitude his academic grades shouldn’t drop – and they didn’t.

The faith community was represented at the gathering by Monica Kirby, director of the special needs ministry at Germantown Presbyterian Church, and Jonathan Gutknecht, special needs minister at Bellevue Baptist.

Germantown Presbyterian has been embracing the special needs community “as if they were embracing Jesus himself” through Sunday school classes, a summer program and parental support group, Kirby said. “The welcome mat is out,” she said.

Gutknecht, 27, discussed his journey into the world of special education. His father, a respiratory therapist, “taught me that God made everyone in His own image.” One of his closest friends while growing up was on the autism spectrum, while another pal was dyslexic. After spending a day in a wheelchair during his University of Memphis studies, Gutknecht knew that he had found his calling. “I know it’s a cliché, but (individuals with disabilities) show and teach me so much more,” he said.

Andy Hendrix of the Downtown YMCA and Don Nobert of Germantown Legends wound up the program by addressing recreational opportunities.

Click here to view the photos from the ADA celebration.


Highlights from ADA Celebration 2016

The Americans with Disabilities Act proved to be a revolutionary tool that strengthened the U.S. workforce, made society more inclusive and improved the lives of millions of people with disabilities.

That was U.S. Atty. Edward Stanton’s assessment, shared at the 26th anniversary celebration of the federal law’s passage. His speech was one highlight of the gathering at Memphis City Hall, which was sponsored by The Arc Mid-South.

The 1990 prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications and governmental activities. But even 26 years later, not everyone appears to have gotten the message.

Since 2011, Stanton’s West Tennessee office has prosecuted several large restaurant chains that lacked parking, restrooms and ramps to make their facilities accessible to people with disabilities. Hospitals have been held accountable for not having interpreters for the hearing impaired; in one case, a deaf patient could not communicate with medical personnel for two weeks! And numerous eateries have been reprimanded for barring service animals who assist the visually impaired..

Stanton referenced the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., saying “Life’s most persistent, urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’ “
The ADA’s  importance was underscored by an audience member, who recounted a recent trip to Thailand. Anna Whalley, who uses a walker because of arthritis, recalled not seeing any Thais with disabilities, probably because the Asian country lacked ramps and other public assistive devices. “People with disabilities just stayed in their houses. It was shocking,” Whalley said. “I missed all the things we take for granted in this country.”


Highlights from ADA Celebration 2015

July 26, 2015 marked the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The Arc Mid-South celebrated the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) with its own parade in downtown Memphis on July 22, 2015.  The commemorative parade began at City Hall and worked its way along Main Street.

“Downtown Memphis will never be the same,” said Carlene Leaper, Executive Director of The Arc Mid-South.  “Especially today, it was a proud moment to have a parade of people marching and celebrating the milestone of having full inclusion of all people, both those with and without disabilities, in all aspects of society.”

At the concluding rally held at Central Station, Leaper received many questions from many spectators about the ADA.  “Thanks to the parade, the Memphis community got a taste not only of the history and importance of the ADA but also The Arc and its services,” she said. 

Since 1950, The Arc Mid-South (originally known as MARC) has shaped the landscape for individuals with disabilities by providing free, confidential and accurate information, resources and training to businesses, employers, and state and local governments on their responsibilities under the ADA.  The Arc also provides free and confidential answers to questions asked by people with disabilities, their families and other advocates, as well as other community members living across Shelby County and throughout Tennessee. 

The ADA was signed by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990.  The ADA and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those protections provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. The ADA and ADAAA assures equal opportunities to these individuals with regards to businesses, employment, transportation, state and local government programs and services, and telecommunications.

A collection of photos from the parade celebration are available online.  Please click on link and enjoy the celebration:
For more information about The Arc Mid-South, call (901) 327-2473 or send an email to  The Arc Mid-South is located at 3485 Poplar Avenue, Suite 210; Memphis, TN 38111.


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The Arc Mid-South proudly serving the Mid-South for over 72 years!