Monday, July 26, 2010

Happy 20th Anniversary to the Americans with Disabilities Act!

Media around the USA seems to be recognizing the ADA anniversary, which is good news. Below is a story from the Chicago Tribune. Organizations such as AAPD (American Association of People with Disabilities) and DREDF (Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund) also have many events planned in honor of the anniversary. Pictured is a disability rights flag created by Amy Selders.

A generation has passed since Rene David Luna, 54, chained his wheelchair in front of a CTA bus and swung a sledgehammer to make a point about the city's sidewalks.

Since then, he said, the world has changed in ways that younger people cannot imagine.

"People assume the buses all arrived with lifts on them," Luna said. "They don't know we had to fight for them."

Two decades ago, activists combined their struggle to navigate ordinary obstacles with the extraordinary effort of convincing the country that the rights of the disabled were as fundamental as the rights of other minorities.

This month marks the 20th anniversary of that effort's culmination in the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990.

The law established broad civil rights for people with disabilities and promoted their full participation in and access to services and activities, paving the way for the next generation of disabled Americans to expect access as a basic right.

Joe Russo, a 45-year-old attorney who is deputy commissioner of compliance in Mayor Richard Daley's Office for People With Disabilities, said it is a mark of the law's achievement.

"I'm glad," he said. "I want them to take it for granted."

Things were different when Russo, who has used a wheelchair most of his life as a result of a degenerative disease, was attending law school at New York University in the late 1980s. The campus, he said, had virtually no accommodations, forcing him to use backdoor delivery entrances.

Russo remembers his panic at being half an hour late for his first final exam because someone had left a 100-pound mailbag on the delivery ramp he used to reach his classroom.

Luna had similar experiences on the campus of DePaul University in the early 1980s after a car crash left him partly paralyzed. The campus had some wheelchair ramps, but they were in places that didn't make sense, he said.

"I'd have to go all the way around the block to the get to the cafeteria," Luna recalled.

Graduation led to new barriers, said Russo: "Getting a job was unbelievable. Employers would openly tell you they would not hire someone in a wheelchair."

Both men came to the realization that such barriers were not going to fall without a good shove.