By Guest Blogger Marca Bristo, President and CEO, Access Living
Twenty-five years ago, on July 26, 1990, 2,000 people with disabilities gathered on the South Lawn of the White House for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) signing ceremony. The jubilant crowd heard President George H. W. Bush proclaim the often quoted words, “I now lift my pen to sign this Americans with Disabilities Act and say: Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”
At the time of the ADA signing, I had just given birth to my daughter, Maddy. While I was not able to be on the South Lawn with so many of my friends and colleagues, I celebrated the historic event in Chicago, where Mayor Richard M. Daley, who committed to making Chicago the most accessible city in the country, hosted a local event. On that day at the White House, in Chicago and around the country, disability advocates felt as if, finally, we had done it. We passed a landmark civil rights law that would allow people with disabilities to participate in their communities and pursue employment opportunities on a level playing field. We did what so many told us couldn’t be done.
Though we accomplished a monumental feat, nothing about passage of the law was easy. There were barriers at every step. Despite the fact that there were no curb cuts, there was no access to bathrooms, there was no interstate TTY system of communication for people who were Deaf and hard of hearing, there was no emergency captioning and employers were free to discriminate based upon disability, Congress did not believe there was a history of discrimination. Without a history of discrimination, there would be no law.