It's hard to underscore the importance of the personal testimonies of Discrimination Diaries that lead to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Just hearing statistics and third person references about being disabled isn't the same thing as hearing what living with a disability is like, directly from someone who is living it.
April 1988, Justin Dart, then Chair of the Congressional Task Force on the Rights and Empowerment of People with Disabilities, began traveling the country (at his own expense) to hold public hearings to gather evidence to support the need for broad anti-discrimination protections. The documents and audio recordings became the collective Discrimination Diaries. The forums were attended by thousands of people willing to step forward and document the injustice and discrimination they faced due to their disability. 63 forums were held in total, one in every state, including the territory of Guam.
Civil Rights protections for disabled people was a key purpose of the ADA. To learn what needed to be included in the law, the disability community was asked to testify about how they are discriminated against in all areas of daily life. People were asked not only to describe physical barriers to access they encountered, but also societal prejudices and biases.
All of the diary entries became collective evidence of the discrimination that disabled people deal with. It helped inform the final drafts of the ADA which helped policy makers and legislators understand two very important facts. 1) That a disability-rights law was right and necessary in order to give equal protection to citizens with disabilities; and 2) That the disability community was an important, politically strong, and unified constituency, whose votes those members of Congress would have to earn.
The ADA could have taken much longer to pass had it not been for the pride and courage of thousands of disabled people coming forward to tell their story. Dart's dedication to the cause is something that we should all be thankful for. I believe he understood his privileged status as a wealthy man, yet felt the shun of discrimination from life in a wheelchair. He used the resources he had from the experience of one aspect of his life, to advocate for the equality of another part of his life. Not many people have the ability or empathy to be such a leader.
Oftentimes, people just want to be heard. Every life has a story to tell. Experiences to be valued. People don't want to be forgotten. They want their struggles to not be lived in vein. Many times they want to make the world a better place. They want to make a difference. This is all true for disabled people too. Dart knew this truth and thus he leveraged the power of the Discrimination Diaries to change the course of history for the entire disability community.
A website that contains 10,000 pages of testimonies can be found here.