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Rally Celebrates 24th Anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act

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IOWA CITY — Dozens of people rallied in Iowa City’s pedestrian mall to celebrate the 24th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It’s a law that bans discrimination against people with disabilities in the workplace, public transportation, communications, and governmental activities.

And it’s a law that has significant importance to Sarah Bender.

“When I was in my late twenties I started having seizures. And they became worse and worse,” Bender said. “Even when we tried all these different medicines, it just wasn’t working.”

Eventually Bender’s seizures became so severe that doctors had to schedule a brain operation. Surgeons removed the part of her brain that was causing her episodes.

Bender, who formally worked as a special-education teacher, came out of surgery physically fine, but struggled with her attention span and memory.

“It’s a continuing adjustment. And it’s been of course difficult,” said Joann Bender, Sarah’s mother. “It’s probably much more difficult for Sarah, who at first woke up to a stranger day after day.”

Joann said finding resources to help her daughter adjust after surgery was difficult and confusing. But then she discovered the Brain Injury Alliance — a support group that also advocates for policy changes on Capitol Hill.

“There are more people affected with brain injury than most people would realize,” Joann said.

That’s why she says the ADA is crucial to people like her daughter. And Senator Tom Harkin, a co-author of the law, agrees.

“We’ve come quite a ways,” Harkin said. “People have more mobility now, they have better housing, obviously education.”

That progress helped Joann answer questions she had right after her daughter’s surgery.

“Every brain injury is so unique and everyone at first feels very alone and lost,” Joann said. “Where do you go? Who can help? What do you need? What’s out there? Nobody knows.”

But she’s optimistic that groups like the Brain Injury Alliance and legislation like the ADA will continue to help families that find themselves dealing with disability.

“After a while you start to focus on the abilities rather than the disabilities,” she said.

“Sarah has found some new abilities and I think life is going pretty well for us.”

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