Sunday, July 23, 2000

Taking stock of ADA, at 10

        Ten years ago Wednesday, 3,000 disability rights advocates gathered on the White House's south lawn for what would become a milestone in American history. That was the day President George Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

        Another milestone, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Both promise equality for children and adults with disabilities in every public sector of American life.

  • The 10th anniversary celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act will be 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Fountain Square.
  • For more information on the Spirit of ADA Torch Relay and host cities, visit the American Association of People with Disabilities' Web site at
        Celebrations are being held across the country to commemorate these milestones. Tristate supporters gathered last week in Covington's Goebel Park to celebrate and will gather Wednesday at Fountain Square for proclamations and speakers. In Columbus Wednesday, former senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole will be the keynote speaker for a fund-raising luncheon. The 24-city Spirit of ADA Torch Relay was launched in Houston in June and culminates Aug. 6 and 7 in New York City. This week, the relay stops in Washington for ceremonies.

        So what does all this pomp and circumstance mean for the 54 million Americans with disabilities? On paper, the ADA prohibits discrimination everywhere from our local Kroger to Paramount's Kings Island to applying for a new job or renting an apartment.

        In reality, the unemployment rate is still at 70 percent among working-age adults with disabilities and discrimination continues: a blind musician is refused alcohol in a Las Vegas nightclub; a mom who uses a wheelchair is taken to court for carrying her child on public streets in Sandusky.         The ADA was not a magic wand that put equal opportunity into the lives of Americans with disabilities. It has, however, dramatically improved the quality of life for many people by raising awareness that led to such things as special parking spaces, Braille elevator buttons, closed-caption indicators at video stores, and the universal access symbol detected everywhere from campground handbooks to dining guides.

        The anniversary of any major commitment — a marriage, a business, a nation — is essentially a measuring stick: We have come this far thus far. And so we can celebrate. But then, let's move on.

        The theme of the Spirit of the ADA Torch Relay is “Renew the Pledge.” It urges politicians, disability rights leaders and American citizens to to uphold the nondiscriminatory principles of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

        Copies of the pledge will circulate for signatures in communities across the country, including the Fountain Square celebration Wednesday, and then be shipped to the AAPD in Washington as testimony that citizens everywhere are committed to making ours the most inclusive nation on earth. We have a long way to go, but these steps are moving us in the right direction.

        Cincinnati writer Deborah Kendrick is a nationally recognized advocate for people with disabilities. Write her at Cincinnati Enquirer, Tempo, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202.


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