ADA reaches a milestone - 20 years of struggles and victories recalled

 Throughout the United States, people with disabilities are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Minnesota’s 20th Anniversary Celebration will spotlight increased opportunities experienced by people with disabilities. The statewide celebration is Monday July 26, from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the Nicollet Island Pavilion, 40 Power St., Minneapolis. The event is free and open to the public.  The facility is air conditioned and fully enclosed. The event will be held rain or shine.   

Minnesota native and stand-up comic Josh Blue will be featured. Blue won the 2006 competition of “Last Comic Standing” on NBC. Since then Blue has used his act to deny stereotypes about disabilities and entertain people as much as he educates them. Another featured entertainer is American Sign Language (ASL) storyteller Nic Zapko.         

Former U.S. Sen. David Durenberger, who represented Minnesota from 1978 to 1995 and has been a national expert in health policy for three decades, will also speak. He’ll be joined by many other local elected officials. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar will present a video message.

Also featured is Peter Berg, project coordinator for technical assistance and employer outreach with DBTAC – Great Lakes ADA Center, Chicago.   

Visitors can see many exhibits and enjoy food and fellowship. Event sponsors are ADA Minnesota, Courage Center, DBTAC-Great Lakes ADA Center, Minnesota Department of Transportation, Pathways to Employment and the Statewide Independent Living Council.   

A committee with representation from a number of statewide disability organizations has worked on the celebration plans for several months. To encourage greater statewide participation, limited transportation reimbursement scholarships will be available to Minnesotans with disabilities living outside the seven-county Twin Cities area (Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott and Washington counties).  To arrange transportation reimbursement scholarships, call the Minnesota State Council on Disability at 1-800-945-8913 (V/TTY) by July 19 and ask for Sarah.   

Other accommodations for people with disabilities will include ASL services; CART services (Communications Access Realtime Translation); limited PCA (personal care assistance) services; and audio descriptors.  The deadline to request these services was July 5; however, call to see what services are still available. Call 651)-603-2015 (Twin Cities) 1-888)-630-9793 (Toll-Free), 1-888-206-6513 (TTY) or 1-866-635-0082 (VP).   

For more information on the ADA 20th Anniversary Celebration, call Cindy Tar-shish, ADA 20th Anniversary Celebration Committee Chair, at 1-888-630-9793 (toll-free) or e-mail cindyt@mcil-mn.org

A brief history of the ADA   

President George H. W. Bush signed the ADA into law on July 26, 1990. On signing the measure, George H. W. Bush said:

I know there may have been concerns that the ADA may be too vague or too costly, or may lead endlessly to litigation. But I want to reassure you right now that my administration and the United States Congress have carefully crafted this Act. We’ve all been determined to ensure that it gives flexibility, particularly in terms of the timetable of implementation; and we’ve been committed to containing the costs that may be incurred . . . Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.

Disability is defined by the ADA as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.” The determination of whether any particular condition is considered a disability is made on a case by case basis.” The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was charged with interpreting the 1990 law with regard to discrimination in employment. Its regulations narrowed “substantially limits” to “significantly or severely restricts”.   

The ADA has withstood many court challenges since 1990, but some modifications made to the law weren’t supported by the greater disability community. On Sept. 25, 2008, President George W. Bush signed into law the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA). This was intended to give broader protections for disabled workers and “turn back the clock” on court rulings which Congress deemed too restrictive.   

On Jan. 1, 2009, the ADAAA broadened the interpretations and added to the ADA examples of “major life activities”. The Act overturns a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court case which held that an employee was not disabled if the impairment could be corrected by mitigating measures; it specifically provides that such impairment must be determined without considering such ameliorative measures. Another court restriction overturned is the interpretation that an impairment that substantially limits one major life activity must also limit others to be considered a disability.   

The ADA is unusual because more than 100 groups dedicated to disability rights, civil rights, and social justice worked together to ensure its passage. The late Justin Dart was a major organizer for the ADA’s passage and is widely recognized as the father of the ADA At the time the ADA was making its way through Congress, Dart was criticized for the idea of a civil rights law for people with disabilities.           

Dart’s response was, “How will we sleep at night if we don’t try?”

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