The ADA: 15 Years and Counting!

The Twin Cities disability community celebrated the 15th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act on July […]

The Twin Cities disability community celebrated the 15th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, 2005. Hosted by a passionate and diverse organizing committee and supported by a number of local non-profit organizations and businesses, the event attracted over 600 participants and 70 vendors to the Earle Brown Heritage Center in Brooklyn Center.

John Hockenberry, three-time Peabody award winner and four-time Emmy Award winner, was the keynote speaker at the event. Hockenberry is a nationally renowned journalist with over two decades experience in network, cable, and radio. He is also an author and actor.

Hockenberry was welcomed by an eager audience. He spoke of a recent article in Parade that highlighted his accomplishments (and provided him with a family Christmas photo!), and how the ADA has evolved by the disability community pushing it forward, holding the firm belief that all Americans benefit from the inclusion of individuals with disabilities. His message of progress, from the passage of ADA to now, was infused with humor and the sense that this is just the beginning of the journey.

Barry Taylor, Legal Advocacy Director at Equip for Equality, provided the morning address on recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, and their affect on the community. Many other presenters were available to the participants, sharing their personal insight and experiences during breakout sessions throughout the day.

The 15th Anniversary of the ADA gives us all the opportunity to reflect on how far the disability community and society have come, and how far we have yet to travel. The passage of an act or law merely provides the basis for change to occur. As with any other great social movement, the change itself takes place over time, with the sweat and effort and tears and struggle of many, and, sometimes, the resistance of others.

But progress is progress, and it is within this context that not only the disability community, but also all of society should celebrate. Fifteen years of progress, and many more to go. It was a day of happiness and smiles, in recognition of how much things have changed, and how much there is to celebrate, as well as the quiet (and sometimes not so quiet) resolve of things yet to come.

The future of the ADA, and the future of the disability community as a whole, is tied to many things, but most certainly connected to how the community portrays itself to those outside the community, and how society as a whole steps up and supports the change.

Take, for example, Jim and Claudia Carlisle, who founded People Enhancing People, a consumer-directed PCA choice organization. The Carlisles’ mission is to nurture a rewarding personal care experience and fortify the independence of persons with disabilities. People Enhancing People has grown and is a true partnership of people with and without disabilities. The Carlisles’ story is one of many showing true integration of people with and without disabilities who are working together to create something that benefits all of society.

Or how about Kevin Kling? Locally renowned and nationally recognized, his writing and story telling has been entertaining and informing for many years in many ways. He has reached audiences from Sweden, to Australia to the Czech Republic, and has gathered a shelf-full of awards along the way. His unique ability to impart humor and wisdom is truly a local and national treasure. Humor is such an integral part of our lives, and is an essential element in the maturity of a movement. The ability to see humor in every day life, especially one’s own, is a critical step in growing.

Other organizations have joined forces for the benefit of the movement. The Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities is a group comprised of leaders in the disability community and has been a shining example of putting aside individual needs for the advancement of the movement as a whole. Their ability to build positive bipartisan relationships has helped secure legislation that will enable thousands of Minnesotans with disabilities to live healthier and more independent lives.

So smile, celebrate, and laugh. The ADA is 15 years old! But let’s not forget, it is a journey of years and tears; and we have just begun.