By Contributor on July 23, 2010

By Kathi Wolfe

Twenty years ago, on July 26, 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law and changed millions of lives for the better — including mine.

When I was growing up legally blind before the ADA, no one thought that people with disabilities had civil rights.

If you were deaf and hospitalized, chances are you wouldn’t have had a sign-language interpreter.

If you used a wheelchair, chances are you wouldn’t have been able to get into most buildings or onto most public buses or trains or subways.

No matter what your disability, you would have had no legal recourse when you encountered disability-based discrimination in the workplace or a public accommodation.

For instance, I remember being asked to leave a deli in New York in the 1980s because the manager thought the other customers would be “depressed” by my blindness.

So, like millions of people with disabilities nationwide, I cheered when the first President Bush signed the ADA and called for “the shameful walls of exclusion” to come tumbling down.

For the first time, there was legal protection for people like me from discrimination in employment, public accommodations and government services.

Today, because of the ADA, curb cuts, wheelchair ramps on streets and in buildings, Braille menus, sign-language interpreters for deaf people, accessible restrooms and polling places and schools that are inclusive to disabled students are part of the American landscape.

Plus, if you’re denied a job or asked to leave a public place such as a hotel because of your disability, you can seek legal redress under the ADA.

The Americans with Disabilities Act passed with wide bipartisan support after thousands and thousands of disabled people presented Congress with stories of the discrimination that they had faced.

In 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments was also passed with bipartisan support and signed into law by President George W. Bush. It restored the protections of the ADA that the Supreme Court had narrowed.

We’ve had other recent successes.

In June, the Department of Justice entered into a settlement agreement with colleges and universities that use Kindles. The schools agreed not to purchase Kindles that are inaccessible to blind students (who can’t read the menus of the devices).

And in July, three Washington, D.C., Hilton hotels, in an agreement with the American Association of People with Disabilities and the Equal Rights Center, agreed to enhance their accessibility.

The shameful walls of exclusion continue to keep tumbling down.

That’s good news for the 51 million Americans with disabilities, and good news for the country as a whole.

Happy anniversary, ADA!

Kathi Wolfe is a writer and poet. She can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

If you liked this article by Kathi Wolfe, check out some of her other pieces by clicking here.

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BREAKING NEWS: Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson of Bhopal infamy died a fugitive from justice. The Progressive got...

This Halloween movie will scare anyone who cares about news.

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).

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