Access Press and ADA: 15 Years Strong

Summer 2005 is a time for two 15-year anniversaries: both the ADA and Access Press came into being in 1990. I’m amazed at all the accomplishments I see among friends in Minnesota and the disability communities across the country because of the ADA. It also amazes me to consider all the accomplishments of Access Press. Charlie Smith was right 15 years ago when he decided, with the help of family and friends, that a disability community newspaper would be a benefit to folks with disabilities and would thrive in the Twin Cities.

The paper’s success has been a result of a lot of influences. It hasn’t been a success over all those years just because of Charlie’s tenacity or his entrepreneurship or intelligence or his ability to surround himself with intelligent, informed people. No, it hasn’t been a success simply because of financial contributors or foundation funding. Its success is not due solely to the information and insights in its columns or to the importance of the directory of organizations or accessible performances or news at a glance. It’s not just been the journalistic ability of Charlie Smith or Tim Benjamin or of all the contributing writers or the hard work and dedication of board members and staff past and present. It’s not any one of these. It’s been all of these things and many more, including each one of you as readers that have contributed to the outstanding success of Access Press. Just as with the ADA, the paper’s success is because of the people who knew they were supporting a good cause, something that was good for all of society, ensuring that people with disabilities should not be kept silent or uninformed. Everyone who has contributed to the paper believes that people with disabilities need to be seen and heard, and being seen and heard, they will change preconceived notions and misconceptions among the mainstream public. They believe that people with disabilities do have the right to contribute to their own success. Most of all they believed in the brain-child of a young man with a dream of a community newspaper giving a voice to the disability community.

So, one side of these anniversaries is the celebration of amazing accomplishment. The other side of anniversaries, though, is closure. An anniversary brings to mind all the things we’ve had to say goodbye to and now only have as memories. Even in my short tenure, I’ve had to say goodbye to a number of people who have worked on and made the paper better. How many people did Charlie say goodbye to? Especially in the beginning of the paper when so many people were influential in his conceptualizing of the paper. Closing the door on ideas can be especially hard; the “what-it’s” come into play. It’s difficult to move on, knowing you’ll only have the memory of what was and what might have happened if the changes were made. An anniversary always involves what is and what might have been.

Think of how the people you’ve said goodbyes to in the last 15 years have changed your life. What if those people hadn’t crossed your path; who would you be today? As for myself, I certainly wouldn’t be the editor of Access Press without Charlie Smith crossing my path and trusting me to continue working with all of you, as he did. We wouldn’t have the civil rights that we have without the influences and advocacy work of Justin Dart and Ed Roberts. People with disabilities in Minnesota certainly wouldn’t have the political impact that we have today without the voice of Paul Wellstone. Again, my point is that we have closure every time we celebrate an anniversary. We have to say goodbye and accept the changes in our lives, learning from those people who struggled to succeed and left us with their successes. In another 15 years, whose successes will we be remembering?

Will we have an international celebration in another 15 years? Of course, the successes of the Americans with Disabilities Act are felt only here in America. Before 1990, I can remember people talking about curb cuts and how many thousands of curbs there were and that it would be impossible—way too ambitious and expensive for all that to happen. Well, as you know, it wasn’t too ambitious and most street corners in the United States have curb cuts and there are many more accessibility accommodations for people with disabilities throughout public places. In most places in the United States, people with disabilities are accepted as citizens with all the rights that America offers everyone. But we wheelchair users would be completely out of luck in much of the rest of the world. We discussed that with the Russians who visited last month. Then, I was at a meeting the other day and there were several people from Liberia, Africa. In Liberia, they said, they don’t have people with disabilities—but of course, it’s probably the case that people with disabilities are not even recognized and are kept out of sight of the main population. Does this sound familiar? When will the accessibility that the ADA offers us reach Liberia and other countries? What can we do to ensure that full accessibility and civil rights reach these places? What can we do to ensure that the disability community in Liberia has a voice like Access Press that might celebrate its 15-year anniversary in 2020?

With a whole lot of help from the disability community and all the long-time advertisers, Access Press has become a success. I want to thank everyone that has been a part of the success and thank you for your confidence in the paper. Thanks, too, for allowing me to be a part of the success of Access Press. We’ve come a long way, but we’re still in our adolescence. Maybe next year Access Press will apply for its driver’s license!