The ADA and the Spirit of Self-Advocacy

Brian, Trisston and fellow disability rights activists on the way to the Alabama State House.

It’s time to CELEBRATE! Yes, you read that correctly. It’s not the 4th of July, Labor Day, or Christmas, but it is time to celebrate. The groundbreaking Americans with Disabilities Act was signed 20 years ago this week by President George H. W. Bush.

The law has opened the doors for more than 54 million Americans with disabilities (including myself and my husband) to live full, productive and meaningful lives. Brian and I both have Cerebral Palsy, and it’s hard for either of us to believe that just a few decades ago, most people with disabilities lived in institutions or, at best, very sheltered lives at home.

Thanks to advocates like Justin Dart, known as the father of the ADA, attitudes toward people with disabilities have changed considerably. Dart contracted polioin 1948 before entering the University of Houston, where he earned undergraduate degrees in history and education in 1954. However, the school refused to give him a teaching certificate because of his disability. During his time at the University of Houston, which was then segregated, Dart organized the first student group to oppose racism. He went on to serve on the President’s Committee on the Employment of People with Disabilities, where he worked tirelessly to help pass the American’s with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. – Helen Keller

With people like Justin Dart as role models, all of us have an example of self-advocacy to follow. Brian and I have pledged to follow in his footsteps. We’ve advocated together for disability rights at the local and state levels. Working together we can help dispel the myths of people with disabilities as “victims” or people who “suffer.” Since the ADA, we’ve come a long way in breaking down those walls. It just takes passion, a little assertiveness, and a good dose of confidence in yourself and convictions.

Perhaps Helen Keller said it best, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” Let’s keep proving this together! Happy 20th Anniversary, ADA!