It was an exciting time to be in Washington, DC this past week for the Twentieth Anniversary of passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the ADA). The ADA is the most important piece of civil rights legislation affecting people with disabilities to be passed in the U.S. to date. Reviewing articles on the history behind the ADA and its passage and looking on the Internet regarding demonstrations that took place before the passage of the legislation, I was impressed by a vivid photo I saw of people with mobility impairments shedding their wheelchairs and participating in a crawl-in up the steps of the U.S. Capitol to bring to the public’s consciousness the urgent need to guarantee the access of all citizens in a democracy to their places of government. That photo reminded me of other famous images of the civil rights movement from the 1960’s of the children in Birmingham being thrown back by the force of water hoses and that of a young John Lewis as a Freedom Rider being beaten bloody and unconscious in Montgomery where the public sees those images and realizes that something really has to change.
People commemorated the 20th anniversary of the ADA in many ways. I had the opportunity to be at the White House to see President Barack Obama speak of the importance of the ADA to our nation and then sign an executive order to help increase the number of people with disabilities hired in the federal workplace. There were parades and picnics and speeches and dances and barbeques in which people across the country celebrated the anniversary of the ADA and the progress we have made so far in facilitating access to services and programs to people with disabilities, although much more needs to be done to fully integrate people with disabilities into the economy and society. One of the favorite images that I saw of people celebrating the ADA was of nearly 200 wheelchair users smiling and coming together in Los Angeles in an event organized by the Christopher and Dana Reeves Foundation to form the longest moving wheelchair formation in order to set a new world record. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/26/wheelchair-formation-brea_n_659402.html
I thought this happy image was a nice contrast to that of the photo of the activists crawling up the Capitol Steps without their wheelchairs to try to put pressure on for passage of the ADA. Without the first we would not have likely had the second.