Monday, June 28, 2010

Some thoughts on the 20th anniversary of the ADA

After 17 years of living with a disability, I'm no longer surprised when some people ask me "What's the ADA?" The Americans with Disabilities Act will be 20 years old next month, on July 26, 2010. Yet it's a law that's not fully recognized or enforced.

Whenever I use a curbcut or facility that's accessible, I know someone else with a disability has fought for it. Those of us with disabilities have been and remain the primary movers and shakers in enacting change through the ADA on local and national levels.

We have many allies. Sen. Tom Harkin is one of them. His speech on the anniversary of the ADA reflects my experiences. Although he acknowledged the progress all around us, he said something I've found myself saying often:

However, progress under the ADA only happens when people—people like you—understand what the law requires, and then choose to make it a priority to ensure that individuals with disabilities are included in all aspects of community life.

It’s one thing for people with disabilities to have rights on paper and a very different thing to know that they enjoy those rights in everyday practice, especially in their communities and in the workplace. We are in an ongoing fight, a never-ending struggle, to vindicate those rights.

We're in the midst of many changes, some good, some bad. As we celebrate our progress, cutbacks threaten our right to live in the communities we care so much about. Too many of our brothers and sisters with disabilities still remain in institutions, faceless and often voiceless. They can only dream of an opportunity like the disability blog carnival, in which our voices are heard.

Each time we speak up for change, we help ready our communities for our children and others who may not be able to speak for themselves. We may not feel like doing it, we may do it and feel as if we're unheard, or we may even be silenced by families and friends who fail to understand our unwillingness to suffer indignities. Despite this, we need to realize that showing up matters. The words that accompanied the signing of the ADA still ring in the air, even though we have a long way to go, especially with employment of people with disabilities.

“Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”

As we sit in the rubble, may we never forget those who began this fight, to whom we owe so much.

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