July is truly the month of independence for all. Most everyone celebrated the Fourth of July and our country’s anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. This year also marked the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 2, outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
However, it was not until many years later that the civil rights of our country’s largest minority group were protected by law and its members were afforded true independence.
While Rosa Parks made her stand for a front seat on the bus, people in wheelchairs wondered “will there ever be a day I can ride that bus?” While many people routinely enjoyed the fun and excitement of Fourth of July fireworks, others had no way of enjoying the same because of lack of accessibility or transportation services to the venues that celebrated our national holiday. A flight of steps, or even “just one step” into a restaurant, store, movie theater or other public venue, might have well been a posted sign stating “no disabled allowed.” Negative attitudes, preconceived perceptions and misinformation concerning people with disabilities only led to blatant discrimination in employment practices.
People with disabilities remained second-class citizens up until 24 years ago. On July 26, 1990, when President George H. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), protecting our, now, 57 million citizens with disabilities from discrimination.
In 2008, George W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), restoring the original intent of the ADA.
While working in the field of disabilities for the past 35 years, I have been fortunate to see the many positive changes these laws have afforded the many individuals it was meant to protect. The ADA has expanded opportunities for Americans with disabilities by reducing barriers and changing perceptions, and increasing full participation in community life. It was not only a milestone for our country, but also the world – ours being the first country to have such comprehensive protections for people with disabilities.
However, the full promise of the ADA will be reached only if we remain committed to continue our efforts to fully implement the ADA. Even after 24 years, I continue to receive calls alleging discrimination weekly. All citizens – including those with and without disabilities, private business owners, state government and local municipal officials, as well as possible employers – must commit to the implementation of the ADA and ADAAA.
As a person with a disability, know your rights; if you don’t, ask someone who can help you do that!
Others must take the time to understand their responsibilities to the federal mandates put forth by the ADA and ADAAA. These laws are the very same that will someday, if not already doing so, protect you, a family member or close friend. Take the time and educate yourself and others.
In the words of the late Justin Dart, father of the ADA, “Lead on.”
To assist with your commitment and/or disability-awareness training, call the Anthracite Region Center for Independent Living in Hazleton at 570-455-9800. For additional information or technical assistance, call the Mid-Atlantic ADA Center at 1-800-949-4232 or visit www.adainfo.org.