On Tuesday, July 26th, members of Congress and about 200 Americans gathered in the Dirksen Senate Building to celebrate the 21st anniversary of passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This wasn’t just a day to savor how far the ADA has brought our country, but to see how much further we have to go in the fight for equality. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius commemorated the anniversary with words of encouragement for all that has been done since the implementation of the ADA 21 years ago. Secretary Sebelius also spoke on areas she sees for more progress, such as accessible taxis in all of D.C. and more support for caregivers including through the Lifespan Respite Care Program.
President Obama through a Presidential Proclamation commemorating the anniversary stated: “Equal access, equal opportunity, and the freedom to make of our lives what we will are principles upon which our Nation was founded, and they continue to guide our efforts to perfect our Union. Together, we can ensure our country is not deprived of the full talents and contributions of the approximately 54 million Americans living with disabilities, and we will move forward with the work of providing pathways to opportunity to all of our people.” President Obama put into words what so many Americans felt on that day in July, 21 years ago. He went on, encouraging “Americans across our nation to celebrate the 21st anniversary of this civil rights law and the many contributions of individuals with disabilities.”
At the celebration, Senators Mark Pryor (AR), and Tom Harkin (IA) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (MD-5) addressed the crowd--which was full of persons living with disabilities who know firsthand how the law has positively impacted their lives. These legislators—who were integral to the law’s passage—discussed the importance of this anniversary, with Congressman Hoyer admitting it is the victory of which he is most proud. I met with Senator Harkin last year at the 20th anniversary of the ADA. I cannot believe it has been a year since the celebration at the White House. That was a monumental experience for me, and for all of those who today—because of the ADA and its commitment to ensuring equal rights to all—do not face as many road blocks. Today I may not be in a wheel chair, I may not have any sort of obvious physical problems, but the ADA affects my life every day. In college, I am protected by the ADA. I invoke my rights whenever I have to take a test; because of my disease and its impact on me, I am allotted more time. I am also allowed a note taker to better help me study for exams. The ADA protects me when I have a relapse- my teachers cannot legally persecute me because of my disability.
On the anniversary of the ADA, I collected a list of what differences were made because of this bill. In one hour, I counted over 30 resources made more accessible because of the ADA. To think of what life would be like today if handicapped accessible bathrooms, wheelchair ramps, automatic doors and hundreds of other installations were not around, is a life I try to not imagine. This country is a leader in declaring equality for all citizens—including those who live with disabilities. In joining the movement, you show your support in fighting for equality for all.
|Senator Harkin looked back on the days before ADA and the differences the bill has made.|
|Congressman Hoyer spoke on the importance of the ADA and the road ahead for those with disabilities.|