This Sunday, July 26 marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the largest civil rights law yet to be passed. It broke down barriers for people with all types of disabilities, opening up access to transportation, education, recreation, business, employment and more.
I had the privilege of being in the White House when President George HW Bush enacted the ADA. I was far from understanding then – as a wheelchair user – how the stroke of his pen would fundamentally change my life and that of millions of disabled people.
As a child, I was not allowed to attend my public elementary school due to my disability. I couldn’t board a bus because there was no wheelchair lift. Merely crossing a street independently was impossible due to the lack of ramps. My friends lifted my wheelchair up the steps of stores and restaurants because they were not required to be accessible.
The ADA has taken a hammer on these barriers. Today, my 14 year old disabled daughter is growing up in a more accessible world than the one I have known. Yet, as we commemorate the phenomenal progress for people with disabilities, there is still a lot of work to be done.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the inequalities that people with disabilities have long faced. The death rate has skyrocketed for people with underlying health conditions we know as disability, especially for blacks and browns. As the virus spreads through nursing homes and institutions that isolate people with disabilities, it has revealed how desperately we are in need of investments in community services.
People with disabilities are disproportionately unemployed, and in Chicago the poverty rate is twice as high for people with disabilities as for people without disabilities. These are stark reminders that the ADA’s promises have yet to be kept.
This anniversary, it is important to reflect and celebrate the progress. But now is also the time to address the urgent needs and systemic barriers that remain for our community: the lack of economic opportunities and access to affordable and accessible housing and health care, to name but a few. some.
People with disabilities need to lead the way, but we also need leaders in governments, business, philanthropy and other justice movements to recognize that we are all likely to benefit from ADA at some point in our lives, and that it is in everyone’s interest to advance the rights of persons with disabilities.
President and CEO
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What is patriotism?
True patriotism requires sacrifices. It is about much more than willingness to give one’s life for one’s country in times of war while those who raise war money watch cynically. Patriotism is a desire to share one’s wealth, through taxation, in the interest of the common well-being.
The Floridian owes the New Yorker part of his fortune. The middle-aged bachelor owes an education to children who are not his own. Healthy people owe sick people financial assistance – sometimes called insurance.
The employer owes his employee a living wage.
There is nothing wrong with this country that cannot be cured by a more equitable distribution of wealth. There is nothing wrong in this country that cannot be healed by brotherly love.
Let the rebellious president, the one who refuses to reveal his tax return – and sends federal forces to cities as agent provocateurs so he can run on a platform of “law and order” – do proof of compassion and genuine patriotism.
Marion J. Reis, Lombard