Happy 20th anniversary ADA

Like many laws the ADA (Americans with Disability Act) has been both cursed and praised as well as abused. How rights are exercised and averted can yield fairly strong emotions from both sides of the issue. But why should rights be averted or challenged is and will be a lingering question in the minds of many who were raised to believe the all men (and by inference women) have certain God given unalienable rights. Our own Declaration of Independence states,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Life (read security), liberty (freedom to believe and to move freely in our society) and the pursuit of happiness are not rights individuals with disabilities had enjoyed until the ADA and as with any minority group its citizens still don’t partake of fully.

But I am not here to debate the issues nor explain how the law is being implemented etc. I am here to recount in part the movement. Like any radical movement there were leaders and followers who felt passionately about the subject and the ADA is no different. I think the person I remember most was Justin Dart. He is called the father of the ADA and I suspect deserves the title as I believe he threw himself wheelchair and all into the movement. I believe he traveled to all 50 states garnering support and urging the passage of the ADA. I had the opportunity to hear Justin in person at Seattle Community College in 1996 when he was stumping the country urging individuals with disabilities into greater political involvement, as he was gathering ideas for a national-policy summit in Dallas later in the month. I remember that he exhorted the audience to campaign and vote for candidates and initiatives that empower the individuals with disabilities because the work wasn’t done with just the passage of the ADA. I was in awe of him as I am sure African-Americans and others were in awe of Martin Luther King during the civil rights movement or those of Hispanic origin in awe of Cesar Chavez the Latino civil rights and farm worker activist and like Dr. King, Mr. Dart was a moving orator. He wore his signature white Stetson and had a very smooth eastern accent. He reminded me of FDR in the way he talked and delivered his message. I could have listened to him for hours. He threw himself into his passion – civil rights for individuals with disabilities. What impressed me most is that he was a lifelong Republican. His Republican roots ran deep and he out of conscience switched parties since at that time couldn’t agree with their platform planks that weren’t accessible to people with disabilities (pardon the pun). But for a person who had national recognition in a political organization to switch parties is well huge in my opinion and brought greater respect for the man. He was very clear on his message –advance the principle that people with disabilities and disability issues should be fully-integrated into all national political and policy discussions and decision-making. Justice for All means to defend and advance disability rights as the central issue. You can read a bit about Justin in the link to Ability Magazine:http://www.abilitymagazine.com/JustinDart_remembered.html

CEO Viewpoint is published by Jim Larson, CEO Morningside

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