Hundreds show up to celebrate 20 years of the ADA and to reflect on the challenges ahead

 Celebrating past accomplishments while looking at the challenges ahead was the theme of Minnesota’s 20th anniversary celebration of the Americans […]

 Celebrating past accomplishments while looking at the challenges ahead was the theme of Minnesota’s 20th anniversary celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). More than 750 people flocked to Nicollet Island Pavilion July 26 to mark the anniversary. Entertainers Josh Blue and Nic Zapko, elected officials and people with disabilities were featured, as were information displays by numerous Minnesota organizations run for and by persons with disabilities.

“There’s much to celebrate – there’s much that needs to be done,” Dave Durenberger told the crowd. The former U.S. Senator recalled the efforts needed to pass the ADA two decades ago, saying the federal legislation has roots in Minnesota law and policy that date back more than 50 years. He said he was proud to have been involved in such an effort while serving in Congress. But he also noted that that happened at a much less politically divisive time.

Two senators, Robert Dole of Kansas and Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, were instrumental in passing the ADA. Both have disabilities, said Durenberger. “They had only two arms between them, but they used them to make civil rights for all of us a possibility.”

Many people, businesses and advocacy groups said the ADA couldn’t be passed for costs and practicality reasons. Durenberger recalled being told that companies and government couldn’t afford to make the changes outlined in the ADA. His response? “We can’t afford not to do it.”

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar also recalled the ADA’s beginnings, saying the act “knocked down the shameful wall of exclusion.” She, Durenberger and other elected officials who spoke praised Minnesota for leading the nation in physical accessibility improvements.

More needs to be done. “The dream of equality under the law is still an unfinished reality,” she said.

Klobuchar also took time to recognize one of her predecessors, the late Sen. Paul Wellstone. Wellstone was a champion of disability rights. “Paul always believed that you had to help everyone in the community,” she said.

Many elected officials offered their congratulations and their support for the future ADA fights.

St. Paul native Blue, an internationally known comedian, had the crowd howling with laughter at his tales of life with cerebral palsy. Zapko provoked laughter and applause as she told humorous stories of growing up deaf.

But it was the inspiring testimony of average Minnesotans about how the ADA and public accommodations have changed their lives that captivated the audience and drew heartfelt responses. “For a lot of us, we remember just trying to get a job,” said Claudia Fuglie. Others described being denied even the chance to apply for positions, or struggling to get through everyday life without accommodations for cab rides, school and work.

Rachel Parker, who is blind, works at PACER Center. She described her long fight to get audible traffic signals installed where she walks. She joked about how now the device has to be fixed.

Peter Berg of the Great Lakes ADA Center reviewed the significant amendments to the ADA that were just signed by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The amendments were published by the federal government on the day of the celebration.

“These are significant changes,” Berg said, and it is critical that community members be aware of them.

Holder signed final regulations revising the Depart-ment’s ADA regulations, including its ADA Standards for Accessible Design. In general, these final rules will take effect six months after the date on which they are published in the Federal Register. Compliance with the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design is permitted after that date, but not required until 18 months after the date of publication.

Berg said the changes affect many areas important to people with disabilities, including regulatory changes on public access and commercial facilities, service animals, housing, correctional facilities, lodging, auxiliary aids and other services. A complete summary of the changes is available at www.adagreat lakes.org and click on Final Rules amending Title II and III of the ADA Released.

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Photographic highlights include:  

  • U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar speaking about ADA accomplishments and the challenges ahead. All of the speakers had ASL interpreters as well as captioning projected above the stage.
  • Former U.S. Senator David Durenberger recalling the beginnings of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in his speech.
  • Minneapolis City Council Member Robert Lilligren addressing the crowd.
  • Peter Berg of the Great Lakes ADA Center reviewing significant amendments to the ADA as part of his speech.
  • Minneapolis City Council Member Diane Hofstede welcoming ADA Celebration participants to her ward.
  • Kim Moccia from the Minnesota STAR Program had technology available for visitors to see.
  • Jerry Pouliot of Minnesota Relay explaining the program and services offered by Minnesota Relay, a state service for deaf and hearing-impaired Minnesotans.
  • Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin addressing the crowd. County, city and state officials attended.
  • Visitors to the ADA Celebration could learn about assistive technology and other aids for voters.
  • Jewish Childrens and Family Services had materials on display.
  • Many disability service and community organizations had booths at the ADA Celebration. Visitors could gather information on a wide range of topics.
  • ADA Celebration attendees enjoyed a delicious lunch.
  • Actress Nic Zapko telling stories of growing up deaf.