This week, we will be reminded of all of the sacrifices that have led to our nation’s independence.
As a community, we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July with parades, picnics, fireworks and the American flag.
I would like to once again take this opportunity to remind you of another landmark date in July where another form of independence was born.
July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act. The intention of this law was to secure civil rights and eliminate discrimination for those with disabilities. At the signing of the ADA on July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush stated “Three weeks ago, we celebrated our nation’s Independence Day. Today we’re here to rejoice in and celebrate another ‘independence day,’ one that is long overdue. With today’s signing of the landmark Americans for Disabilities Act, every man, woman, and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence, and freedom.”
On that historical day in July 1990, 3,000 people stood on the White House lawn to witness the president’s directive. “Let the shameful walls of exclusion finally come tumbling down,” he said. The ADA Anniversary website states it best by asserting:
“Enactment of the ADA reflects deeply held American ideals that treasure the contributions that individuals can make when free from arbitrary, unjust, or outmoded societal attitudes and practices that prevent the realization of their potential. The ADA reflects recognition that the surest path to America’s continued vitality, strength and vibrancy is through the full realization of the contributions of all of its citizens.”
The message of the Americans With Disabilities is quite simple and summarized within the preamble which states that the law is intended “to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.” This equality was intended to be seen in areas of employment, education, public assistance, telecommunications and public accommodations.
As we near the anniversary of this momentous day in our nation’s history, it is a good time to reflect on where we are as a community in preserving the goals set on that day. In the past year, I have had the opportunity to present a collection of articles focused on individual stories of accomplishments, local resources and individuals who are committed to the success of this incredible population and areas in employment and education where these dreams are becoming a reality. As I recall, all of the opportunities that I have personally experienced in gathering this information and the extraordinary people I have met, who I now consider friends, I would say we are doing very well.
We still have work to do in this journey. Maybe the day will come that words like “integration” and “inclusion” will not have to be used, because it will be commonplace. Maybe “people-first language” and “human rights” will be practiced in all areas of our community. Perhaps employers won’t have to consider hiring a person with a “disability” but just hire the person because of their “ability.”
On behalf of all of the individuals and organizations who work tirelessly to provide the opportunities and choices to people with disabilities that make their lives more enjoyable, I wish all of you happy Independence Days!