disability rights

The Fight for 504

The Fight for 504

When I first learned about the 504 sit-in protest that occurred in 1977, it enriched and deepened my pride in being a disabled person. It made me even more honored to be a part of the disability community. It educated me on the struggle for securing our civil rights, and ignited a passion that I have today, to continue to fight for disability justice and equality.

In case you don’t know about what the Fight for 504 is, here is a brief historical recap: In 1973 Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act was signed into law. The text of Section 504 states: “No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States shall solely on the basis of his handicap, be excluded from the participation, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” This means no person should be excluded from any program, service, or similar which receives federal funds.

This was the first civil rights law written specifically for the disabled. It is considered a pre-cursor to the Americans with Disabilities Act that was passed years later in 1990. But while disabled advocates were cheering 504, business and government leaders weren’t

Discrimination Diaries

Discrimination Diaries

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.

About the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

About the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

It's kind of ironic when you think about it. An international human rights treaty that is said to have been inspired by the Americans with Disabilities Act exists without ratification by the United States itself. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocols was adopted at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on December 13, 2006, and opened for signature on March 30, 2007. There were 82 signatories to the Convention, 44 signatories to the Optional Protocol, and 1 ratification of the Convention. This is the highest number of signatories in history to a UN Convention on its opening day. The Convention entered into force on 3 May 2008.

The Convention views disability as a socially created problem and moves beyond access to the physical environment to broader issues of equality and elimination of legal and social barriers to participation, opportunity, health, education, employment and personal development. It embraces the key principal of the independent living movement: the right of people with disabilities to have the same options, freedom, control and self-determination in everyday life that people without disabilities have.

The United States didn't sign on immediately. Not until 2009 when President Obama said from the East Wing of the White House, "Disability rights aren’t just civil rights to be enforced here at home; they’re universal rights to be recognized and promoted around the world."

Justin Dart: Father of the Americans With Disabilities Act

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.

Key Disability Rights Cases

Key Disability Rights Cases

On the 28th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it seems appropriate to look back to some of the key disability rights cases that have been decided since the law was passed. If anyone tries to tell you, disabled or not, that the rights of access and equality that have been achieved for disabled people for the over the course of the last 50-60 years are locked in forever, immune to legal challenges or regulatory roll backs, don't believe them. Because it is just. not. true.

Take for example, the most recent passage of HR 620 in the US House of Representatives. Known as the 2017 ADA Education and Reform Act, its purpose is to amend the 1990 ADA law, requiring a "notice and cure" period whereby a person asserting their civil rights are being infringed would have to provide a written notice to business owners, and they would be allowed time to respond.

Ed Roberts: A Founding Leader of the Independent Living Movement

Ed Roberts: A Founding Leader of the Independent Living Movement

In case you aren't familiar, the story goes like this: Ed was 23 years old and he wanted to do what most young people of that age want to do: he wanted to go to college. Bias and physical barriers to access made Robert's efforts to achive academic milestones a constant struggle. He had to learn early-on how to advocate for himself and his needs. Initially taking courses by telephone, his mother insisted he attend some classes in person, in order to socialize him and prepare him for the world outside his doors-- disability or not.

The Americans With Disabilities Act is Turning 25!

The Americans With Disabilities Act is Turning 25!

The signing of the ADA into law on July 26, 1990, was the culmination of a decades-long effort on behalf of thousands of people with disabilities and their allies and advocates. Getting disability rights legislation into public policy was not an easy task, mostly, because first policy makers had to be made aware of the discrimination that people with disabilities faced in their everyday lives. They had to have their eyes opened to the reality that the promises of prosperity and equality written in the constitution for all Americans, wasn’t being fulfilled for a whole class of people: those with disabilities.