Christopher Reeve said it best:
"Our nation cannot tolerate discrimination of any kind. That's why the Americans with Disabilities Act must be honored everywhere."
President George H.W. Bush put it this way: "Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down." He said these words exactly twenty years ago, on July 26, 1990, at the White House ceremony where he signed the ADA into law.
This week's 20th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act is a legitimate cause for celebration. A large chunk of that shameful wall has indeed come tumbling down. And the ADA's vision is widely honored.
Yet considerable demolition work still remains to be done. A few specific examples:
Independent Living: Happily, a Community First option is included in the new health care reform bill, permitting state Medicaid programs to promote home and community-based services over institutionalization for many seriously disabled individuals. Yet the job is only half done. Community First is an option; we still have to convince 50 state legislatures to adopt it.
Employment: We admire the ADA's commitment to dissolving workplace barriers and all of the progress that has followed in its wake. But we cannot ignore very real shortcomings in the areas of compliance and enforcement. Too many states, regions and communities are still denied the full benefits of what is, after all, the law of the land.
Transportation: Enactment of the ADA marked a high point in helping transform our entire transportation system. Accessibility is now the rule. Yet availability and affordability continue to lag. What's more, the aging baby boom generation is going to place unprecedented strains on critical services like paratransit.
Our Foundation, as were Christopher and Dana themselves, is dedicated to curing spinal cord injury by funding innovative research and by improving the quality of life for people living with paralysis. But the success of our mission requires that we actively nurture the legacy of the ADA, as well as newer legislation, like the Christopher and Dana Reeve Paralysis Act that President Obama signed into law last year.
Which is why, along with the rest of the disabled advocacy community, we are preparing, even as we celebrate this auspicious anniversary, to carefully watchdog the implementation of existing law in the coming year and help shepherd new policy solutions into existence.
As Christopher used to say, "Keeping hope alive requires endurance and hard work."
The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation commemorated the 20th anniversary of the ADA by setting a Guinness world record outside Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles for the most wheelchairs in a moving line.
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