It was on this day in 1990 that President George Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. It didn’t come easily. It took a long time and was met with great resistance from all sides. Today we celebrate. And we have a hero to thank.
In the 1950’s, Judy Heumann wasn’t allowed to attend school because she was in a wheelchair due to polio. The school wouldn’t make any accommodations for her to be in class, instead offering a paltry two and a half hours per week of home instruction.
Judy grew up and became a well known disability rights activist in the 1970’s. Her work brought uncomfortable and inconvenient topics to the surface and set a course for what is now law: making reasonable accommodations for the human rights of children and adults with disabilities. There are similarities between the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the ADA of 1990, not only in their protection of human beings but also in how they came about: demonstrations, protests, long political fights, and methodically making the case against discrimination. I find this history encouraging as we continue to fight for equality today. Keep fighting, all.
Sometimes I think about what life would be like if I were raising Lexi in a different era. Taking her on neighborhood walks in her wheelchair would be far more difficult. Doing a grocery run without the availability of a Caroline Cart would be impossible. And Lexi’s schooling would be nil, or a paltry (yes, that word again) two and a half hours of home instruction. I am grateful to the pioneers of the ADA and for the hard work of so many who have passionately defended and supported people with disabilities. Lexi’s dad thanks you.
Even if you aren’t affected by disability, you reap the benefits daily. Drinking fountains without step stools. Sidewalk aprons for strollers or skateboards. Ramps for building entryways that make a post-knee replacement trip less painful. And closed-captioning for those often lost lines of dialogue on Netflix. Most of all, we as a society benefit because we are taking barriers away and progressing toward an equal world for all. Every human being deserves dignity — not just in our words and posts, but in our actions.
I came across this story on the New York Times. You can read more about Judy, an ADA hero, by clicking here