Thursday, July 26, 2018

Happy Birthday, ADA!

Today the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) turns 28! This day is always a big celebration for me because it serves as a reminder of the incredible accomplishments of the disability rights movement, and although we are frequently ignored and left out of wider discussions of civil rights, the ADA validates our identity as a minority group. And, coincidentally, this day doubles as my anniversary with my partner who also has a disability, the significance of which is not lost on me. For on one hand, our lives, our successes, even our relationship owes gratitude to the civil rights the ADA has granted us, while on the other, our inability to get married without losing vital services reflects how much work still lies ahead of us as a social movement. And really, the penalties endured by people with disabilities who seek marriage are just one of the many social challenges we face – any person with a disability can tell you of struggles with healthcare, low caregiver wages, housing, and even areas the ADA was passed to address, like employment and accessibility.

Iconic image of activists crawling up the steps of the U.S. Capitol building in support of the ADA
(Photo courtesy of Tom Olin/Disability History Museum)

For many, the ADA conjures the image of disabled activists ditching their wheelchairs to crawl up the Capitol steps or George Bush, Sr. signing the bill into law while surrounded by the parents of the ADA on the White House lawn. For me, it brings to mind the songs, the slogans, the battle cries, the poems, the stories. So perhaps it is fitting I find myself working in the arts wing of the movement where we fight to ensure everyone has the right and the opportunity to express themselves creatively, to tell their stories in whatever medium serves them best. And art is one of the most effective ways to break down social stigmas and bridge connections with those who see only a wall of difference, to move hearts when minds have closed. The disability rights movement calls for action of all kinds, and art is one of them.

President George H.W. Bush signing the ADA into law on the White House lawn. Surrounding him are disability advocates Rev. Harold Wilke, Evan Kemp, Sandra Parrino, and Justin Dart Jr.
(Photo courtesy of George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)

So if you are still seeking your role in the movement, maybe give the arts a try. Or even if you find direct action like the Capitol Crawl or civil disobedience to be most rewarding, you can view the arts as another set of tools to add to your activist toolkit. Whatever path you choose, we hope you have a lovely ADA Anniversary! Be proud of the hard-fought accomplishments of the disability rights movement and keep up the great work our previous generations began. And if you live in Austin, we hope you can join us as we celebrate the ADA at our Opening Minds, Opening Doors Speaking Advocates group this Saturday, July 28th, 1-3 PM and continue the tradition of storytelling to effect change. Happy ADA!

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