Twenty-seven years ago, Americans with disabilities were finally granted their civil rights and equality with the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Advocates fought hard to get Congress to pass the ADA, staging protests such as the Capitol Crawl where people with disabilities got out of their wheelchairs and crawled up the steps to the U.S. Capitol because there was no wheelchair accessible entrance. Senators and Congressman saw this as an inconvenience because protestors were blocking the steps. This visual was so powerful, Congress finally “got it” and passed the ADA.
I celebrated my first birthday just five days before the ADA was passed. I am lucky to grow up in the ADA era, where sidewalks have curb cuts and buildings have elevators. I am lucky to be able to be hired for a job or go to a restaurant without being turned away due to my disability. I am lucky to have the opportunity to go to college to get the skills I need to start AbiliTrek. The advocates at the Capitol Crawl paved the way for me to be able to contribute my skills, talents and ideas to our society.
The ADA was a breakthrough for the disability community and has helped advance our quality of life but the fight isn’t over. Courts have tried to limit the ADA protections to only the ‘truly’ disabled. Courts would argue more over the definition of disability and who was included than if the person was discriminated against based on disability. The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 was passed to broaden the definition of disability.
The latest fight is over Medicaid. The new healthcare bill would significantly cut Medicaid federal funding. Many people do not realize that Medicaid is the only health insurance that covers in-home care services. Many people with disabilities, including myself, rely on Medicaid in-home care to help me get out the door in the morning. In-home care is also an optional Medicaid service while funding for the much costlier nursing home care is mandatory. The proposed significant Medicaid cuts would force many of us to live in nursing homes, ending our contributions to society.
I arrived in Washington, D.C. yesterday for a week of advocacy work to continue to fight for disability rights. We have come so far and have so far to go. I encourage you to educate yourself about the disability rights movement. Hopefully we can continue moving the needle forward instead of going backwards. As Justin Dart, Jr., known as the father of the ADA, would always say – Lead On!