By Mike Ervin

Today, July 26, I celebrate the 20th anniversary of the signing of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). I only wish it fully lived up to its promise.

For people with disabilities who live in urban areas like me, the ADA has been a huge help.

I live in Chicago, and on the day the ADA was signed, there was not one accessible public transit bus on the streets here. Today, every bus in Chicago is accessible.

Thanks to the mandates of the ADA, nearly all public transportation vehicles and facilities in urban areas are now wheelchair accessible. But in rural areas, where public transit options of any kind are scarce, people with disabilities are still very isolated.

And all those with disabilities who live against their will in institutions and nursing homes are also as isolated as ever.

In 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court underscored the power of the ADA when it ruled, in the case of Olmstead v. L.C. and E.W., that states violate the rights of the disabled by not offering community-support alternatives to institutionalization. Activists have used this precedent to pressure state governments to create more community-based support services. But many states have mightily resisted change.

And the federal government has a terrible double standard. Its Medicaid rules require states to pay the costs of keeping people with disabilities in nursing homes. But states are not required to pay for community-based supports.

In today’s fiscal crisis, governors and legislatures in many states, such as California, New York and Illinois, are attempting to balance budgets by cutting programs that provide people with disabilities with the assistance they need to remain in their homes and communities.

Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Justice has gotten aggressive recently in initiating and supporting lawsuits against state governments that are not complying with the Olmstead ruling. The Obama administration deserves credit for taking this meaningful action. But the most meaningful action the federal government could take is ending the institutional bias in Medicaid funding.

The effectiveness of the ADA will be judged on future anniversaries by how well it has brought freedom to the lives of disabled people who have the greatest needs and the least resources.

They are the ones who so far have been left behind.

Mike Ervin is a Chicago-based writer and a disability-rights activist with ADAPT ( He can be reached at

If you liked this article on the 20th anniversary of the signing of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), read another piece on the same subject by clicking here.


Add new comment

By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.


Trump's politics are not the problem.

The fiery Milwaukee Sheriff is on the shortlist to head the Department of Homeland Security.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

Public School Shakedown

Progressive Media Project