Passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 25 years ago brought many positive changes to the lives of people with disabilities.
Curb curbs, assistive technology and accessible facilities were unheard of then. But much more needs to be done. That was the message July 26 as more than 1,000 people attended the state’s ADA Family Day celebration at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul.
Families enjoyed the chance to create artwork, learn about disability history, meet friends, view displays and express what the ADA means to them. Event attendees filled the seats in MHS’s auditorium, and crowded onto the stage to hear the speakers when space for wheelchairs and scooters filled up. Speakers were met with loud cheers.
“That’s really why we’re here today, isn’t it? We really are disabled and proud,” said event moderator Sam Jasmine. She is host of the KFAI Radio program, Disabled and Proud. “We’ve come a long way in 25 years.” The crowd erupted in applause and cheers when Gov. Mark Dayton declared Sunday, July 26 to not only be the 25th anniversary of the signing of the ADA, but also Rick Cardenas Day. Cardenas, who recently stepped down as co-director of Advocating Change Together, was honored for his decades of community activism.
“We celebrate the flood of human potential unleashed by the ADA,” said Steve Elliott, executive director of the Minnesota Historical Society. As he welcomed guests, Elliott described how the ADA has helped his daughter, a teacher and parent who lives with spina bifida. Elliott noted that the ADA means that “each person is entitled to pursue his or her dreams.”
The ADA was a dream until it was adopted in July 1990. Margot Imdieke Cross, Minnesota State Council
on Disability (MSCOD) accessibility specialist, recalled being in Washington, D.C. when the ADA
was signed into law. About 3,000 people filled the
White House lawn to watch then President George
H.W. Bush sign the bill.
“It was a hot, steamy day,” said Imdieke Cross. White House officials wanted a small ceremony but ADA advocates said otherwise. “We said no, no, no, it’s got to be big. It’s got to be momentous. It’s got to be wonderful.”
Fears were raised that people might faint, so Imdieke Cross and others were armed with water-filled squirt bottles to spray anyone who might need a pick-me-up. “We just had a grand time,” she said. With the sense of fun also came questions about what was ahead, she said. “Many of us in the audience were very excited but also very fearful. We accomplished something monumental but we were scared because we had to make it work.”
Former U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger also recalled the signing. He worked to get business leaders on board to support the ADA and address concerns about mandatory access. Durenberger used the July 26 event to thank people with disabilities for teaching him the need to make changes for the same rights others took for granted. He said it has taken time “to slowly rid the nation of stereotypes so often built into public policy and politics.”
The ADA has focused on trying to end discrimination against people with disabilities, and to promote full integration and participation in society. About 20 percent of all Americans have a disability as defined by the ADA. Dayton’s ADA proclamation noted how more communities are becoming inclusive and free of physical, communication and social barriers and how government services are continually improving and becoming more accessible to Minnesotans with disabilities.
On the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we celebrate and recognize the progress that has been made, we acknowledge challenges still exist on our horizon, and we reaffirm our commitment to full equity and inclusion for all,” the proclamation stated.
Dayton said that while everyone at the celebration should be pleased with the accomplishments of 25 years, “there’s still more to do.” He joked about U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank, who has been involved in several high-profile disability cases, “looking over our shoulders to make sure we help people.”
Frank has presided over cases including the settlement of complaints of abuse of patients at then Minnesota Extended Treatments Options facility in Cambridge and the ongoing work on the state’s Olmstead Plan. “Many people with disabilities have opened my eyes and mind to the issues” that community members face, Frank said.
He thanked people with disabilities for making him a better person and judge, and for making Minnesota a better place.
It has taken people with disabilities stepping forward to make the case for full inclusion in society. “The point is, it’s individuals with disabilities who have stepped forward. They have not been silent,” Frank said.
He noted an instance years ago when there were questions about placing a woman with blindness on a jury. After the trial ended, the jury foreperson said, “We were a better jury with her than without her.” Frank also discussed the promise of Olmstead, which stems from a U.S. Supreme Court decision calling for people with disabilities to be in the most integrated community settings. He spoke of the “unjustified isolation” people with disabilities endured without the plan.
He urged those present to fight for full integration for people with disabilities, in living situations, jobs, education and other aspects of community living. “There can’t be silence,’ he said. “We have to have better opportunities for people in the community.”
At least one of the displays is expected to make its way to the Minnesota State Fair Education Building later this month. A large red and blue ADA 25 display was used July 26 to display sticky notes, Event attendees were asked to answer the question. “What does access mean to you?”
Responses were varied. “Make the most of life,” “no barriers,” “accessible entrances to all buildings,” “Able to have sign language interpreting and caption services,” “respect and dignity to choose” and “Freedom!” were among some of the many response.
Minnesota State Council on Disability (MSCOD), which led planning for the July 26 event, will continue the ADA celebration at the 2015 Minnesota State Fair, August 27 through September 7. MSCOD will again have its booth in the Education Building, on the eastern side of the fairgrounds.
Stop and get free posters created by artists with disabilities — Annie Young, Michelle Morine-Chapa, Renee Granger-Smith and Joshua Paisley. Free information from a variety of groups will be available, as will the popular grab and go emergency preparedness kits. Live performances are also planned. State agency commissioners will be available including Matt Massman, administration; Brenda Cassellius, education; Kevin Lindsey, human rights; Lucinda Jesson, human services; Ken Peterson, labor and industry; Thomas Landwehr, natural resources and Ramona Dohman, public safety. Dayton may also make an appearance. Get details of who, what and when (including ASL interpretation times) here.
American Sign Language interpretation will be available. People can also register for the employment conference on October 28 in Minneapolis. For more details, go here.