Chris Murphy competes in track cycling at the Paralympic Games 2020. (Photo: Casey Gibson)
Chris Murphy is fast on tracks, and fast with facts.
A two-time U.S. Paralympian as a cyclist, Murphy knows the ins and outs of training to be an elite athlete, one who recently posted two top-six finishes on the track at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.
When not on the bike, his attention turns to espousing the importance of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the landmark 1990 law signed by President George H.W. Bush to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability. It is designed to give people with disabilities fair and equal opportunities.
“The ADA is an important law,” Murphy said. “It’s important to understand that it’s a civil rights law.”
Murphy serves as an information specialist for the Rocky Mountain ADA Center, which provides information and guidance for individuals and businesses in Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. The Rocky Mountain ADA Center is a regional center part of the ADA National Network.
Murphy primarily focuses on architectural requirements set forth by the ADA. That means sharing with businesses how their facilities can comply with the law.
Architects, Murphy said, will often ask him about certain gray areas of the law, such as what qualifies as a service dog and what is required for new construction versus buildings constructed before the ADA was enacted.
“The ADA is very nuanced,” he said. “There are certain situations where different laws overlap. It’s really trying to decipher which law takes precedence, and the nuances of how the different laws interact.”
Service dogs were recognized by titles II and III of the ADA in 2011, and they are defined as dogs trained “to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities.”
All new construction, on the other hand, must be as accessible as possible, while facilities built prior to 1990 are not subject to such strict guidelines if meeting them would result in “undue burden.”
“The world should be more accessible, but there are specific times when other things override the ADA,” Murphy said. “There are times I have to be truthful and say, ‘Well, in this case, the access might not be required.’”
Originally from Rancho Cucamonga, California, Murphy joined the Rocky Mountain ADA Center in 2016, two years after moving to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to train at the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Center, which he deemed as “vital for preparing for the Games.”
He said the Rocky Mountain ADA Center is very accommodating for his athletic schedule, and the two compliment each other well. Similarly, his time in the Paralympic community has allowed him to see personal examples of the importance of complying with the ADA.
“It gives me a large palette to understand why certain aspects of the ADA exist, and it gives me the ability to explain the situation in real-life terms,” Murphy said.
Even with real stories and tax incentives, though, he said some businesses still express pushback to complying with the ADA.
“Some people flat out don’t see it as necessary,” Murphy said. “(They see it as) an expensive undertaking for no reason. Those are the people who (think) access doesn’t matter to them until it affects them directly.”
Murphy admits it can be hard for businesses to track the financial benefits of complying with the ADA, but says things like accessible restrooms will undoubtedly lead to more customers.
“What a lot of people fail to understand is, disability is the largest minority group that there is in the world,” Murphy said. “Anybody is subject to joining this minority group at any time, given certain circumstances. Anybody can be hit by a car, an unfortunate reality of life, and their life can change. Then, all of sudden, access matters.”
Murphy, 37, sustained a brachial plexus injury at birth, resulting in nerve damage in his left arm, hand and shoulder. He had not really heard of the ADA until around 2015. Although he doesn’t use a wheelchair, the law still accommodates his disability, as he is unable to turn round door knobs.
“While I’m fairly able bodied, I can’t turn my wrist,” he said.
Murphy said people with disabilities should continue advocating for accommodations. The Colorado Springs resident advises to push for accommodations with “sugar,” instead of threats.
“Becoming more involved with the community is the goal of the ADA, and people with disabilities shouldn’t be afraid of themselves and their needs,” Murphy said. “Most of the time, people are not aware (of the ADA’s requirements), and they would be very apt to fix (inaccessible areas) if they had known about them.”