Today marks the official #ADA30 Celebration! It is the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. On July 26th, 1990, President George Herbert Walker Bush signed into legislation a recognition of the civil rights of all people with disabilities.
Some may say the disability movement is young, beginning in the late 1960s and culminating in 1990. However, the process of advocating for disability civil rights have been happening for centuries. As we know, the oppression and discrimination faced by people with disabilities can be traced back to biblical times. Disability was characterized as something cast upon you for not following the teachings of God. However, at the same time, the bible articulates compassion for people with disabilities, recognizes the need for protective laws, and argues against any retributions committed upon a person with a disability.
As you can see, there is conflicting messages, and those continued over the course of our history. Whether it be medieval times, the renaissance, the 18th, 19th, 20th centuries, we people with disabilities have been and continue to be subjected to broad ranges of oppression and discrimination. As a result, we have been faced with managing our survival.
Many of the so called “interventions and treatment” across our history systematically lead to isolation, segregation, and institutionalization. Historically, our disabilities have been viewed as impairments needing to be fixed, either through prayer or medical interventions. Even today, there are states where it is legal to sterilize people with disabilities, systemically attempting to remove us from our communities.
The history of discrimination and oppression is long and it’s shameful. It was the civil rights movement of African Americans that propelled disability communities to voice our rights and demand equitable recognition and participation in American society.
As I highlighted over the past few weeks, we have the ADA due to community organizers, such as Judy Heumann, Ed Roberts, and Justin Dart. We must be thankful for their leadership, their perseverance, and most of all, their willingness to not accept the word “no” from so called experts.
When the ADA stalled in Congress in March 1990, a group spoke out and more importantly acted out by organizing a march from the White House to the State Capital. At that time, 60 disability activists with physical disabilities shed their crutches, wheelchairs, and other assistive devices and proceeded to crawl up all 78 west side steps of the Capital. Our movement must honor the many important people, organizations, and events that contributed to the passing of the ADA. It took many voices and many courageous actions for the ADA to become legislation.
Through the ADA, we have been able to increase independence, recognize the value of disability in the workforce, improve public places, and begin to shift the cultural paradigm. The work is not done! It’s just the beginning. As we know, even today there are elected officials who want to eliminate the ADA and who do not understand the value of our disability community. The ADA empowers us to be bold, brave, and courageous for the fight of civil justice.
It’s only fitting that on the 30th anniversary of the ADA, John Robert Lewis, an iconic advocate for social justice, is making his final journey across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. John Lewis continually spoke for equality. One of most famous quotes is “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something, you have to do something.” The ADA symbolizes this. In 2020, we as a community must not stop. Think about the levels of poverty, homelessness, lack of education, isolation, stigma that we still must combat. As a community, we must become uncomfortable and understand how the intersectionality of identities adds layers of complexity to our lived experience.
The ADA is a symbol of hope. Again, through the words of John Lewis “If you’re not hopeful and optimistic, then you just give up. You have to take the long hard look and just believe that if you’re consistent, you will succeed.” I firmly believe this, I plan to take a stand, speak out, and most importantly take action. I can’t wait to see what we can do in the next 30 years to transform and appreciate disability in our communities.
I want to close by personally thanking my network. First and foremost, I would not be the advocate I am without my mother and father teaching me to give and to speak out. They mentored me to be an agent of change. I need to thank my husband Robert and my daughter Kathryn for supporting me while I traveled the country speaking and acting out. To my employers, John F. Kennedy University and the Department of State Hospitals. And finally, to my immediate support team, who I refer to as Team Alette. It takes 10 of you to execute my vision. I appreciate your dedication, your willingness to work long hours, laugh, cry, reflect, and be agents of change. Let the transformation, respect, and growth continue to drive us. Happy 30th ADA!