Justin Dart: Father of the Americans With Disabilities Act
It often surprises me how many people in the disabled community, when asked, have never heard of Justin Dart. I've been disabled my whole life and it wasn't until my mid-30s while working at an independent living center that I learned about Dart. Who he was, and what a large contribution he made to securing the Americans With Disabilities Act. In fact, he is referred to as the “father of the ADA” because he was an influential leader in the disability rights movement for nearly 40 years.
Dart was a successful businessman turned activist when, in 1948 he contracted Polio. He put his full attention to the disability rights movement. He held a number of influential federal positions related to disability, and in 1981 began working with disability rights activists to draft a national policy guaranteeing civil rights for people with disabilities.
In 1998 he was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Until his death in 2002, Dart was dedicated to his vision of a “revolution of empowerment.” His unwavering dedication and leadership in the movement has inspired a generation of new, young leaders who will carry on his legacy to "LEAD ON!"
Disability Rights Law Takes Shape
In October 1982, Justin Dart, then Vice Chair of the National Council on the Handicapped, embarked on a nationwide tour to meet with disability rights activists to develop a national policy that called for civil rights legislation to end discrimination against people with disabilities. The National Policy for Persons with Disabilities was issued in January 1984 and outlined the provisions needed to ensure people with disabilities can participate equally and fully in all aspects of society.
Then, again in the late 1980s, Dart undertook a second tour of the United States with the purpose of continuing a national dialogue about disability. Called the "Road To Freedom" with the support of friends and disability advocates, they visited all 50 states as well as Puerto Rico, Guam, and the District of Columbia to hold public forums that were attended by more than 30,000 people. This consistent advocacy and long-term conversation is what ultimately earned Justin the title of "Father of the ADA" as the information, network and diligence became the foundation of the legislative conversation around the ADA.