Defining the Faces of Disability: An Intimate Look

This year celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). TDAC is proud to present disability-inclusive narratives of individuals who benefit from the ADA in their everyday life. The following are the honest stories of people who have experienced disabilities from birth or encountered disability later in life.

ADA Definition:

The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

Disability definition under the ADA:

The ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability.

Anita and her Dementia

Not a specific disease, Dementia is a group of conditions characterized by impairment of at least two brain functions, such as memory loss and judgment. Symptoms include forgetfulness, limited social skills, and thinking abilities so impaired that it interferes with daily functioning. Here is Anita’s story.

Anita is a 77-year-old woman with “country common sense.”

Anita struggles with dementia and currently functions with one eye. She wishes dementia could be diagnosed earlier on in life, so she could have prepared for the memory loss and uneasy walking. With dementia and her low visibility combined, she has to be extremely focused on coordination to get around safely. None of this discourages Anita.

“I feel like I’ve been through hell and high-water figuring stuff out, but I’m not giving up,” said Anita.

TDAC has helped Anita navigate her life with disabilities and understand what the ADA can do for her. She called Dr. Miles “the guru of the system” for teaching her how to be a self-advocate.

With the protections of the ADA, Anita is ready to “kick some butt!”

Dr. Ye and his Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) involves an immune-mediated process in which an abnormal response of the body’s immune system is directed against the central nervous system (CNS).  The CNS is made up of the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves. Symptoms include but are not limited to fatigue, numbness, weakness and walking difficulties. Here is Dr. Ye’s story.

Dr. Ye immigrated to the U.S. from China many years ago to pursue his dream of earning a Ph.D. and leading his own medical research. Ye has worked in dermatology research at UNC-Chapel Hill for over 20 years. He loves his work, and the assistance a federal job provides for his Multiple sclerosis.

Ye has used a scooter for the past 10 years due to weakness in his legs. He lost his funding due to COVID-19 and is looking for another federal job through the Special Hiring Authority, because Ye believes federal jobs are more accommodating.

He is very knowledgeable about the ADA through TDAC and meeting other people with disabilities. Ye uses his knowledge to take full advantage of local opportunities created through the ADA, such as the EZ Rider which provides paratransit services in Chapel Hill.

Ye sees his MS as inspiration for his work and is committed to making society better. “Disability gave me an extra motivation to work harder for my medical research because I can feel the pain and suffering of those people,” said Ye.

“Don’t let your disability be an obstruction to whatever you want to do, life is beautiful,” said Ye.

Daniel and his Autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. Here is Daniel’s story.

Daniel mentally recontextualizes his Autism and sees it in his own language. In his mental utopia called Anlia, each of his friend groups is organized into a camp. Daniel can freely leave a camp at any time if he has a meltdown and move onto another without any trouble.

“This is contrary to every person in the world, but I would rather be able to be kicked out of anything I want than get into anything I want,” said Daniel.

Daniel can struggle to make friends due to the high expectations he sets on his personal connections, so most of his camps come from disability groups like TDAC that are more understanding.

In his personal time, Daniel sketches inventions that expose how arbitrary culture can be. He started sketching when he was six, and at age eight he drew a claw with silverware attached because he couldn’t understand why we place formal silverware the way we do.

Throughout his life, Daniel realized it’s ok to do things differently as long as you reach a working answer. He encourages people to “believe like Einstein, accept like Gandhi,” which means to believe in the physics of the universe and discuss it the way people discuss God.

Dr. Emmanuel and his Blindness

The term “blindness” generally refers to a lack of usable vision. Individuals with total blindness are unable to see anything with either eye. Legal blindness is defined as 20/200 or less in the better eye with the best possible correction. Many individuals who are considered legally blind still have some degree of useable vision. Here is Dr. Emmanuel’s story.

Dr. Emmanuel was an ophthalmologist and professor before he went blind in 2008, at the height of his career. He founded Healthcare Africa Incorporated in 2010 and received a $1.4 million dollar grant to establish assisted technology in Liberia.

Emmanuel had seen people go blind before in his practice and went to rehab to improve his eyesight. Throughout the whole process, Emmanuel prides himself on his independence.

“A whole lot of people are amazed at what I can do without a sighted person and I’m happy about that,” said Emmanuel.

In his daily life, Emmanuel uses JAWS on his laptop to send emails and view documents and is learning to use his iPhone. He has an aide come by to help him shop and do some household chores, but Emmanuel does his own cooking.

Organizations like ACB and the Federation of the Blind, and events done through the ADA, give him a community and improve his quality of life.

One of Emmanuel’s proudest moments is getting a graduate degree from the University of Toledo while blind. He completed the degree without extra time because he was not going to make himself an exception.


All these individuals continue to live their daily lives to the fullest and use ADA accommodations to their benefit. They have not let their disability discourage them and hope to encourage others with disabilities to stay motivated and do what they love.

A collective voice is a stronger voice. Leave a comment about your own experiences with a disability to inspire others, just like Anita, Dr. Ye, Daniel and Dr. Emmanuel.