Twenty-five years ago yesterday, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed by President George H.W. Bush. The ADA changed the everyday experiences for people with disabilities. June 26, 1990 was an incredible milestone for the disability community. The purpose of ADA is to prohibit discrimination based on disability and provide similar protections to those provided in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Beginning this past weekend, celebrations took place (and continue to take place) all over the country to celebrate the anniversary of the signing of ADA. For example, New York City hosted ADA25NYC, a series of events to honor the legacy of ADA, including a series of lectures and seminars at various CUNY campuses, a museum exhibition outlining the disability rights movement, and an awards ceremony to acknowledge the efforts of various disability rights advocates. In Cincinnati, a Disability Pride Walk took place earlier today. In my own city, Chicago, ADA25Chicago sponsored a Disability Pride Parade, as well as various projects to educate Chicagoans on disability issues, including a partnership with teenagers in After School Matters. All year, the ADA Legacy Bus has been touring the country as part of the ADA Legacy Project. This year’s theme was “Disability Rights Are Civil Rights.”
Along with celebrating the many improvements to life for Americans with disabilities since ADA, many have taken this time to reflect on the obstacles that still exist, and what we can do to continue to overcome them. According to Disability Scoop, President Obama said last Monday, “Now, days like today are a celebration of our history. But they’re also a chance to rededicate ourselves to the future– to address the injustices that still linger, to remove the barriers that remain.” These include the barriers to inclusion we see daily, when children with disabilities are excluded because people are afraid of the challenge of supporting them. We see lawsuits occur when children, like Steven Heffron from Ohio, are excluded from summer camps or other recreational programs. Our hearts ache for parents when teachers say, “What is the benefit to including your child in general education classes?”, as Michelle from Big Blueberry Eyes experienced this year. We have come so far since 1990, but we still have a long way to go.
Though individuals with disabilities and their families now have legal rights against discrimination, there are still too many Americans who have not yet changed their mindsets. The problem is that, to so many people, inclusion is seen as a civil right of those with disabilities, as “the nice thing to do,” as opposed to something that can benefit all people involved. When I think back on my involvement with inclusive programs growing up, I don’t think that I was doing a favor to my peers with disabilities. I myself benefited immensely from their presence and friendship. I discovered the value of diversity, and of listening to others’ stories and experiences. I learned how to maximize my creativity and how to lead by valuing the contributions of all group members. We must embrace the value of inclusion for all people, as opposed to including kids with disabilities because the law requires it or because of a charitable effort. In doing so, we will honor the people who fought so hard for access and respect for all. At that point, we will be living out the true legacy of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
–Written by Elise Hopkins, KIT Blog Writer
Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.