Shout out to ADA at 20!

We first endure,  then pity,  then embrace.

Alexander Pope 1688-1744.

Alexander Pope’s words come to mind as we anticipate the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Change is an interesting concept to contemplate.  Sometimes the impact is instant and fleeting.  At other times change seeps in, embeds itself, is adapted and adopted, eventually appreciated

How and when did we embrace the idea of disability rights?  How and when did we fashion the infrastructure that supports inclusion — the power of advocacy groups, structural amenities including accessible sports facilities (!), adaptive technologies that facilitate inclusion and that enhance our general awareness of the needs and the contributions of those who are challenged.

It’s worth taking a look at the legislative actions that preceded the 1990 passage of the ADA.  The Disabilities Rights Movement was one of a number of initiatives that grew out of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. Though the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Civil Rights Act of 1965 dealt with race, religion. sex and national origin there is no mention of discrimination against people with disabilities.  Disability rights did not enter the legal canon until 1973 when Section 504 of the Rehabilitation of 1973 became law.  Still, the idea was gathering strength.

Barriers along the march towards equal treatment for people with disabilities would have halted most mortals.  For example, the 1973 legislation prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability towards otherwise qualified people by recipients of federal financial assistance.  The law still did not protect people with disabilities from discrimination by employers, by public accommodations in the private sector, by publicly funded programs and by those providing federal financial assistance.  Again, the idea was catching on.

The 1970’s and beyond saw critical change affecting people with disabilities..  On the one hand, they enjoyed greater access to physical facilities and a chance to prove themselves.  The community at large had a chance to know disabled people as co-workers, neighbors, family and friends.  At the same time, information technology seized the opportunity to enhance intellectual access. The Kurzweil Reader, now relegated to antique status, offered breakthrough intellectual access in the 1970’s.  Meanwhile, the rapidly expanding population of older Americans welcomed every adaptive technology that kept them in the moving in the mainstream.

Given this slow and steady struggle,  the 20th anniversary of passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act calls for a celebration that includes a pause to reflect and renew the promise. This is also a time to publicly acknowledge that, though legislation neither solves all the problems nor addresses all the issues, it rallies the recalcitrant and puts society, including those immediately affect,  on watch.

The 20th anniversary of the law underscores that, though ADA lays down the law, real people take it from there –  people who express their needs, propose solutions,  seek the funding,  create adaptive solutions, capitalize on the latest technology, expand employment options, acknowledge accomplishments, monitor compliance, make change happen in their lives and in their work.

Towns and cities throughout the state and the nation are gearing up with special events, proclamations, and advocacy initiatives.   Minnesotans of all abilities will gather at the state’s hallmark event:

Monday, July 26, 2010

10:00- 2:00 p.m.

Nicollet Island Pavilion


Free and open

Speakers and entertainers include former US Senator Dave Durenberger, comedian Josh Blue, ASL storyteller Nic Zapko, ADA authority Peter Berg, local and national politicians – and more.  There will also be a host of exhibitors and vendors, including purveyors of “summer time food.”  Accommodations include ASL interpreters CART services, PCA assistance and audio descriptors.


For information about the ADA celebration contact the chair of the planning committee: or 651 603 2015.

ADA has a fact-filled website that explains more than you even want to know about the law, its requirements and implementation.  One staple is a 31-page page booklet, ADA Questions and Answers, offers an overview of the ADA’s requirements for ensuring equal opportunity for persons with disabilities. The primer is available in Spanish, Cambodian, Chinese, Hmong, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Tagalog and Vietnamese editions available from the ADA Information Line.

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