We Came Together: Wisconsin Reflects on the ADA's 20th Anniversary

Uploaded by clarencethefifth on 24.07.2010


I don't know that any of us at the time realized how major an event it was.
It seemed like a huge dream. I mean it was like asking for the world.
It really was a good piece of legislation that would assist
not only people with disabilities but the general public as a whole.
We weren't sure how far we could go.

Almost like electricity in the air out in Washington.
It was fun.

The rest is kind of history.

Wisconsin reflects on the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

I grew up needing a lot of accommodations and getting some and not getting others.
I had to approach each teacher and tell them what I needed,
which is kind of hard for a little kid.

If you couldn't walk, you couldn't go to high school.
The only place you could have gone to high school - I think it was Milwaukee.
They didn't have an elevator in the high school. I'd have a wheelchair on every floor.

I usually had to go in a manual wheelchair and be carried up
flights of steps to get into restaurants.
I don't know what our fascination with steps is.
[ laughs ]

There are many of us that were hired long before there were any laws.
We had the ability to sell ourselves.
[ videophone ringing ]

My first job, I had no accommodations.
If they had a meeting I had no clue what they were talking about.

When I moved to Washington, I took my accommodation with me.
It was four blocks of wood.

The accommodation came when I had to ask the fella in the office next to me
to lift the desks so I could stick the blocks of wood under.

I think a lot of people, especially younger people, think everything began with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
And it didn't.
Wisconsin has a history with disability.
I think what Wisconsin brought to the table
was people who not only had the experience of living with a disability,
but had the experience of working with the system.
They always saw us as a real passionate state.
We had a lot of things going on in the seventies and eighties.

We need to have people with disabilities sharing in our community just like everybody else.
Jim Wahner, when he was in the legislature
held hearings in different parts of the states.
He was our curb ramping person.
Jim Wahner, who was very involved, did a lot of work on behalf of deaf people.
No longer could one disability group stand alone and argue for resources.
We came together.
And it wasn't part of our work, it was part of our life.
We organized the Wisconsin Disabilities Coalition.
The work of the Governor's Committee.
The work of the Independent Living Centers.
The Survival Coalition - and that was very active.
People who wanted to get things done.

The role that I remember most about Wisconsin playing in the passage of the ADA
was around the area of transportation.
One of our biggest opponents was the transportation industry.
People with disabilities would never go to a bus stop in the snow and wait
was always an issue.
Because you have a disability doesn't mean you can't be cold like other people.
People with disabilities can put on long underwear and wait for the bus just like anybody else.
If you can get people on those buses, they'll get to your business,
they'll get to your movie, they'll get to a friend's house, they'll get to school.
It's one of the elements that relates to every aspect of ADA.
If you don't have mainline transportation, how are you going to deal with employment?
How are you going to deal with access to state and local government services?
How are you going to deal with access to public accommodations
if you can't choose and have the ability to get there yourself?

[ photo of Justin Dart ]
I met Justin Dart. He came from Washington.
Justin realized how much Wisconsin was really taking a lead in promoting the passage of ADA.
Here is this gentle, kind man
in a wheelchair - no big deal to him
saying, "With your help, we can eliminate these barriers and really push the disability population into the community.
People just glammed onto that.
Justin took all that information from all the states back to Washington.
Evidence that people were being discriminated against.
He got his point across in a way that made everybody think.
In my mind, Justin Dart is the Martin Luther King of the disability movement.
[ photo of Justin Dart ]
During that time, there were lots of trips back and forth to DC.
Took some convincing of people to understand why this law was needed.
Herb Kohl was always very supportive.
He made his staff readily available to us.
Kohl's office was the best reception we ever had.
I think I made more trips because I was in a position at that time
where I called myself a consultant, the Italian word for unemployed.
Sandy and I spent a week, and we did, actually, five hundred and fifty offices.
Spending twelve-hour days on the Capitol handshaking, smiling, and making people aware.
Sandy uses an Amigo, and at the time I had a little bit of vision - I used a white cane.
I do not know my right from my left verbally, I have to point.
and Dick can't see me pointing, so there were many times that we collided in the halls of Congress.
I'm thinking, "I might have to knock her off that scooter...
because I might need it."
It was quite a week.
I remember someone saying, "You know, it is time you people have a bill."
It's not simply about us people.
We're not special and not looking for anything special.
I remember staying up nights reading the actual bill. I just thought it was the most exciting thing I'd ever read.
It sure did seem like a long shot at times, too. Like, "How is this ever going to happen?"

On January 23, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed
by the 101st Congress, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability.
[ photo of George H.W. Bush signing the ADA ]
On July 26, 1990, the ADA was signed by President George Bush on the White House Lawn.
That day was probably the most exciting, best day of my life.
There were thousands of people there.
And, of course, in Washington in July it's hot and muggy.
Hot and muggy.
A Washington day and it gets really humid there.
But you didn't care because you sat there knowing that this was a historical occasion.
President Bush Senior and Barbara Bush walked right by us.
It was people from all over this country that had a part in it happening.
It was such a happy occasion.
It was a very inspiring time.
To be there to celebrate that historic event was pretty special.

I think a lot of us were so tired we were just glad it was over with.
Initially it was a little overwhelming.
Education, education, education after the law was passed.
There was almost like a hunger for information.
People wanted to know, wanted to learn.
Have we started to get there? Oh, yes. Yeah.

Kathy put me on a plane here and I was actually able to fly to DC, have attendant care services there, and fly back.
That's when I knew that the ADA had really worked.
I had made the trip by myself.
It's nice to have curb-cuts and things to get around, it's easier.
Now you see people out and about all the time.

There's always been the question of what comes next.
I wish it had made more of a difference in employment.
Just because you're disabled, doesn't mean you can't work.
Allow people the opportunity to work and earn an income
and save.
It scares me to death about retirement.
Nobody ever thought about, "What are you going to do when you have to retire?"
Not allow the lack of resources to force people back in the institutions, back into segregated settings.
That's one of our biggest challenges.

Things aren't going to happen if nobody says anything.
If our history isn't told it'll be too easy to slide backwards.
You don't start as adults, you start with kids.
If kids are more included in school, they're going to be more willing to fight to be included in the community.
Younger people need to recognize that they have to make it happen.
They can't wait for somebody else to make it happen.
If you're going to use a service, you pay for it.
If you're eligible for a service, you benefit from it.
If you're going to seek employment, you better be qualified.
And if all that happens, then your disability can be put in the background.
That's what ADA is about.
Disability today is simply a fact of life, not a way of life.
And that's a big change from twenty years ago.

In memory of Michael Falconer
In memory of Kayleen Brereton
In memory of Lew Stark
In memory of Ann Smith
In memory of Dick Bartell
Produced by ADA Wisconsin Partnership
With The Fifth Productions
Special Thanks to Ann Falconer, Robin Jones, Tom Olin, Jayn Wittenmyer
IndependenceFirst, Options for Independent Living,
Possibilities Playground, Ricardo Vasquez and William Gillen
Created with funds from the DBTAC-Great Lakes ADA Center from the U.S. Department of
Education through the auspices of the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.