Thursday, February 25, 2010

Disability organizations plan events for 20th anniversary of ADA

From AAPD. In the picture, left to right: Tony Coelho, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (MD-5), Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-5), Melanie Brunson (speaking), Interpreter, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Kelly Buckland.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — At a press event at the Capitol Building on Feb. 23, 2010, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (MD-5) and Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-5) joined the leadership of the Justice For All Action Network (JFAAN) in kicking off the celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The legislators each reflected on the progress of the last 20 years while recognizing the tremendous amount of work we, as a nation, have yet to do in fulfilling the promise of the ADA—equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for all people with disabilities. Toward this end, the JFAAN steering committee announced its legislative agenda for the 2010 Congressional Session in the Spirit of the ADA Campaign.

Tony Coelho, primary author and sponsor of the ADA and chair of AAPD’s board, introduced the event and its speakers. He began by thanking those present and honoring the legislators and the ongoing leadership of the JFAAN steering committee organizations: ADAPT, the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), the American Council of the Blind (ACB), the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), Little People of America (LPA), the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), the National Coalition of Mental Health Consumer Survivor Organizations (NCMHCSO), the National Council on Independent Living (NCIL), the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), Not Dead Yet (NDY), Self Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE), and the United Spinal Association (USA).

Next to speak was Congressman Hoyer who reflected on the original intent of the ADA to open doors for people with disabilities who, up to that point had been shut out: shut out as consumers, as employees, as passengers, as students and as citizens. Recognizing, “we don't mark anniversaries like this to pat ourselves on the back. We mark them to remind ourselves of the work that remains to be done,” he announced that he and Representative McMorris Rodgers were sending letters to all committee chairs and ranking members requesting ADA and ADAAA implementation oversight hearings to evaluate “how are [these laws] working, how well are they working, what are still the challenges that confront us, and what still needs to be done.” He concluded his remarks by honoring the presence of Yoshiko Dart, wife of disability rights giant Justin Dart and renowned advocate in her own right.

Senator Harkin, longtime disability champion in the Senate, followed by recapping the legislative progress over the last 20 years. From the ADA, to the ADAAA and the various iterations of legislation to address the institutional bias of Medicaid, he affirmed his commitment to the work ahead. Recognizing the passage of national health care reform and an end to the institutional bias in Medicaid as two of the 13 agenda items in the Spirit of the ADA Campaign, Senator Harkin reiterated his commitment to those issues and promised to continue to do what he could to secure the inclusion of the Community First Choice Option in health reform. He concluded by congratulating JFAAN for their work so far and thanking them for their message saying, “this Justice For All Action Network picks up on NCIL’s motto: Nothing about us, without us… It’s about people with disabilities saying what ought to be done, and to me that’s the most powerful message of all.”

Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers gave her comments a personal tone by thanking legislators and advocates for guaranteeing her son more rights today than ever before. She voiced a particular interest in addressing education, youth transition post-high school, the institutional bias, un- and under- employment and cultural stereotypes that people with disabilities continue to face despite the tremendous progress made since the passage of the ADA. Many of these priorities are featured in JFAAN’s Spirit of the ADA Campaign. Like Senator Harkin, she concluded by addressing the JFAAN leadership, saying, “I am honored to stand with you today and be a part of [this effort] moving forward.”

Kelly Buckland, Executive Director of the NCIL, proceeded to outline the structure of JFAAN and thank Steering Committee representatives present: Bruce Darling, representing the ADAPT leadership; Andy Imparato, President and CEO of AAPD; Lauren Spiro representing NCMHCSO; Nancy Bloch, CEO of NAD; Ari Ne’eman, Founder and President of ASAN; Lise Hamlin, Director of Public Policy at HLAA; Dan Kessler, President of the NCIL board and the next speaker, Melanie Brunson, Executive Director of ACB. The boards of both NCIL and ACB were highly represented in the audience. Ms. Brunson highlighted several of the 20th Anniversary Agenda items. The Spirit of the ADA Campaign is organized into items that safeguard human rights and respect human dignity, enhance self-determination and make technology work for everyone. She specifically addressed the technological challenges that are concerning the disability community and legislation that address those challenges.

The afternoon concluded as it began, with the wise remarks of Tony Coelho:
“We are here today to say to that we are ready to join together again to build on the progress of the past two decades and continue to knock down barriers to the civil rights and human rights of all children and adults with disabilities. Our joint agenda is grounded in the philosophy that disabled people and disabled people’s organizations know best how to realize the vision of the ADA, and that it is by listening to the disability community directly that policy makers will be able to craft laws and policies that will achieve their intended results on that ground.”