“Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down,” President George H.W. Bush exclaimed to thundering applause just before signing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law 22 years ago today. Thousands of people had gathered on the south lawn of the White House to bear witness and celebrate the culmination of decades of hard work and struggle that led to people with disabilities finally being guaranteed “equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency” (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Title 42, Chapter 126, Sec 12101, part a, paragraph 8).
Storyline Motion Pictures, the Natick, Massachusetts-based documentary film company that produced Lives Worth Living in 2010, has uploaded a nice video recap of the July 26, 1990, signing ceremony to YouTube. (They’ve turned off the embedding feature, but follow this link to watch.) Meanwhile, the Disability Rights Education Defense Fund (DREDF) maintains this 1992 article by Arlene Mayerson which thoroughly recounts the historical events leading up to its signing, and acknowledging all the efforts great and small that made it happen, writing:
The ADA owes its birthright not to any one person, or any few, but to the many thousands of people who make up the disability rights movement — people who have worked for years organizing and attending protests, licking envelopes, sending out alerts, drafting legislation, speaking, testifying, negotiating, lobbying, filing lawsuits, being arrested — doing whatever they could for a cause they believed in.
But anniversaries of societal milestones are times to look forward as well as look back. As Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) noted in Unfinished Business: Making Employment of People With Disabilities A National Priority (PDF) published last week, we are just now seeing the first “ADA generation” enter adulthood; “a new generation of young adults with disabilities […] who have high expectations for themselves and who are ready, willing and able to pursue a good career,” he writes.
Corbin McKenzie of Augusta, Georgia, personifies the ADA Generation. A report filed by WJBF News Channel 6 reporter Chris Kane on Monday shows the full life this young man is living. “I can do awesome things,” he tells a group children who are peppering him with questions about what it’s like to live with cerebral palsy and clasping hands with several of them, as if to get them to realize that he is made of the same flesh and blood.
And indeed, McKenzie can do awesome things. From the footage of him in a waterskiing apparatus to his own story of volunteering for a year at the Wilson Family Y in order to earn his job in Member Services, the word “can’t” is definitely not part of McKenzie’s vocabulary.
Most poignant is McKenzie’s recognition of his role in influencing future generations. His own mentor, Matt Miklas, passed away last year at the age of 23. McKenzie grew up playing baseball in the city’s Miracle League program, now he is following in Miklas’ footsteps as a coach to other young children who may have disabilities, but — thanks to the ADA and people like McKenzie — are anything but disabled.
Share your thoughts about the ADA and how it has made life matter for you or someone you know in the Comments section.