A New Dawn!

July 26, 2010 at 2:11 pm Leave a comment

ADA Signing CeremonyIt dawned like no other day – Wednesday, July 26, 1990! Filled with joyful anticipation, I stood on the South Lawn of the White House, along with 2,000 others from all over the United States, waiting to witness President George H.W. Bush sign the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law.

Flooded with a myriad of thoughts and emotions, I was overcome with the sense I hadn’t come alone to this moment. My mother, my uncle, and my grandmother, all of whom were born blind, like me, were here with me in spirit! From an early age, the stories of the prejudice and discrimination they faced awakened my outrage and anger about the way society treated people with disabilities.

My own experience included exclusion from my neighborhood school and busing across town to segregated classes with other students with disabilities. At college after high school, I was given an isolated, segregated dorm room reportedly because I’d be using readers and want to be alone.

Upon graduation from university, I sought my first job but encountered a gauntlet of barriers. Back then there was no recourse under the law.

I recalled my friends and colleagues unable to enter government buildings, restaurants, grocery stores, pharmacies, movie theaters, and other places because they weren’t accessible. I bristled thinking of the eatery that turned away one of my friends, saying that his cerebral palsy would offend other customers.

I reflected on how we finally decided we’d had enough and organized as a cross-disability rights movement to advocate for our rights. It started in 1968 with returning Vietnam veterans and civilians with disabilities working to get a law requiring that all newly built or leased federal buildings and facilities be accessible.

More advocacy by people with disabilities resulted in the Rehabilitation Act passing Congress in 1972, but President Nixon vetoed it and in response, Judy Heumann led disability rights activists in a blockade of Times Square, gaining national attention. Congress overrode Nixon’s veto.

Momentum built with more marches, rallies and protests from 1985-89. Centers for Independent Living, like ECNV, organized people with disabilities in communities throughout the country to advocate for disability rights. In Virginia this resulted in enactment of the Virginians with Disabilities Act.

A final push to get the ADA bill through Congress culminated in a massive disability rights march and crawl up the Capitol steps in 1990.

Finally, after a historic public debate, both Houses of Congress passed the bill and sent it to President Bush for signature. And, so here we were at the White House.

Suddenly, President Bush mounted the stage. He spoke those beautiful words, “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down!” And, with the flick of his pen, it was done, and everything had changed!

Changed – did I really think that all of the physical and attitudinal barriers had disappeared with the signing of the ADA? No, of course not. We all knew there would be years of struggle and advocacy ahead. But, in that wonderful, jubilant moment, we could revel in what we had achieved.

Americans with disabilities were now first class citizens! For the first time, we had rights under the law, and we had recourse against the injustice of discrimination.

It was a new dawn, like no other – and we weren’t going back!

By Doris Ray, Director of Advocacy and Outreach
Article from the ECNV Declaration (Summer 2010 Edition)

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Entry filed under: ADA, Disability History, Newsletter - The ECNV Declaration. Tags: , , .

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