Thursday, July 26, 2007
Today marks the 17th anniversary of the signing of the Americans With Disabilities Act. On this anniversary, I believe we should evaluate the progress we have made and commit ourselves to continuing the fight for equality. Justin Dart, renowned disability rights advocate who passed away in 2002, is considered to be the father of the ADA. Below are his comments on the signing of this landmark legislation.
ADA: Landmark Declaration of Equality By Justin Dart
President George Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, 1990, a landmark date in the evolution of human culture.
Throughout all of reported history until recent decades, people perceived as having significant disabilities have been treated as sub-humans. At worst they were killed or left as beggar-outcasts to die, at best they were cared for through subsistence welfare, out of sight and mind in institutions and back rooms.
With the development of modern medicine and social responsibility, millions of 20th Century humans are surviving previously fatal conditions and living on with significant disabilities. These individuals have a great potential to be happy, productive members of their communities. However, our best efforts to fulfill this potential have been consistently limited by a massive residue of prejudice and paternalism. Our society is still infected by an insidious, now almost subconscious assumption that people with disabilities are less than fully human, and therefore are not fully eligible for the opportunities, services and support systems which are available to other people as a matter of right.
More than two decades ago many of us in the disability community concluded that Americans with disabilities would never achieve full, productive citizenship until this nation made a firm statement of law protecting their civil rights.
The Americans with Disabilities Act is such a law. It establishes a clear and comprehensive prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability. Taken in combination with previously existing disability rights law, it provides a sound legal framework for the practical implementation of the inalienable right of all people with disabilities to participate equally in the mainstream of society. It extends to people with disabilities the same protection of their rights that is already enjoyed by the members of all other minorities.
Most importantly, ADA is a landmark commandment of fundamental human morality. It is the world's first declaration of equality for people with disabilities by any nation. It will proclaim to America and to the world that people with disabilities are fully human; that paternalistic, discriminatory, segregationist attitudes are no longer acceptable; and that henceforth people with disabilities must be accorded the same personal respect and the same social and economic opportunities as other people.
ADA opens the doors of opportunity for millions of isolated, dependent Americans to become employees, taxpayers and welcome participants in the life of their communities. It prepares the way for the emancipation of more than half of a billion of the world's most oppressed people.
I am proud of America. I am proud of President Bush, Attorney General Thornburgh and Boyden Gray. I am proud of Senators Harkin, Hatch, Kennedy and Dole. I am proud of Congressmen Hoyer, Owens, Bartlett, Mineta, Fish, Brooks and all the great members of Congress who supported ADA. I am proud of former members Lowell Weicker and Tony Coelho. I am proud of Bob Silberstein, Bill Roper, John Wodatch, Melissa Schulman, Bob Tate, Maureen West and all the great Congressional and Administrative staff who authored and fought for ADA.
I am proud of Pat Wright, Lex Frieden, Evan Kemp, Sandra Parrino, Paul Marchand,
Wade Blank, Elizabeth Boggs, Liz Savage, Marca Bristo, Judy Heumann, Arlene Mayerson
and the thousands of other patriots who have struggled for long, hard years in a
wilderness of prejudice and paternalism for the victory of ADA.
Once again America has passed the torch of liberty and productivity to the world.
All who love justice must unite in action to protect our hard won ADA rights, and to ensure that they are implemented through strong regulations, and enforced in every community.
We of the disability community must communicate to America that full compliance with ADA can be profitable for all citizens, and we must join in cooperative action with government and the
private sector to ensure that all will profit.
But ADA is only the beginning. It is not a solution. Rather, it is an essential foundation on which solutions will be constructed.
We must undertake a courageous reallocation of our society's resources from paternalism to independence and productivity. We must invest in a continuum of new and strengthened programs to liberate people with disabilities from dependency, and empower them to be equal and productive participants in the mainstream: Productivity-oriented education for all citizens. Economic, technological, independent living, vocational rehabilitation, transitional, personal assistance and community based supports for productivity and quality of life. Prevention. Affordable insurance and health care for all. Incentives for productivity to replace disincentives. Accessible communications, transportation, housing, and completely new communities that are accessible as a whole.
A large agenda? Certainly! But no larger than that which faced our patriot forefathers at the successful conclusion of the revolutionary war.
Like them, we have accomplished much. Like them, we have a profound responsibility to make a bold declaration of equality real in the lives of hundreds of millions of people in future
I believe that we will unite to fulfill that responsibility. Because I believe in you, the patriots of ADA. And I believe in you, the patriots to be.
Together we have overcome. Together we shall overcome.