This past Sunday, July 26, marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. I was only four when it was passed, so I really did not experience what life was like before the ADA, but I can certainly attest to how things have changed in the last 25 years. In celebration and remembrance, events were held all across the nation last week and this week.
I was able to go to DC on Sunday to take part in some of the celebrations. The National Museum of American History had several tents set up for disability organizations to showcase their products and services. Additionally, a “discussion stage” featured panels on various topics throughout the day.
The 1 p.m. panel on Section 504 and eugenics of course caught my attention. Several of the panelists were disability historians whom I have read for years, including my Master’s thesis advisor, Kim Nielsen. Not to mention that my thesis was on eugenics. I was in nerd heaven! After the discussion, I met a professor who studies eugenics as it relates to Deaf history. My research was on eugenics and blindness history, so we exchanged cards and I hope to pick his brain on these subjects. What an opportunity!
The final panel focused on the next generation of advocates, so-called “youth leaders,” and featured some current rock stars in the disability activism world, including Maria Town and Rebecca Cokley. It was a great discussion. Each panelist had his or her own thoughts on what was next for disability advocacy and the future of the ADA. One panelist discussed the importance of intersectionality and the plight of incarcerated people of color with disabilities, while another panelist thought more work needs to be done to teach the medical community about disability so that new parents are told “This is OK” instead of “I’m very sorry to report…” when receiving a disability diagnosis for their newborn.
All very important issues that we, as the next generation of disability advocates, need to tackle.
The booths were equally as interesting. I talked to a representative from Google, who told me about Google’s work with disabled people and the steps in DC adorned with images of disability rights leaders past and present. I spoke with some people from the State Department and USAID who showed me an all-terrain wheelchair, which they provide to disabled people in developing countries.
Sunday was the first time in my life that I was surrounded by like-minded people with disabilities, all fighting for a common cause. It was inspiring and invigorating to see so many of my fellow humans together to celebrate one accomplishment and plan for more advocacy work to be done in the future. As someone who is still on the outside looking in, though, it was a bit sad. I almost felt like someone trying to get into an exclusive club. I was amazed at how everyone knew each other. I very much want to be part of their ranks–a member of a powerful force for positive change in the lives of people with disabilities everywhere!