Happy Birthday ADA by Justin Dart

Yesterday was the anniversary of the ADA. Below I have reprinted a message from deceased disability activist Justin Dart that was written for the tenth anniversary of the ADA in 2000.

July 26, 2000


Dear Colleagues:

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ADA!

Congratulations to all the magnificent patriots who have fought to pass
and to implement the worlds first comprehensive civil rights law for
people with disabilities.

This is the tenth anniversary of the ADA. Has it been a success?

Yes. Relative to civil rights laws of the past considering the
millennia- deep roots of prejudice against people with disabilities, the
viciousness of the opposition by interest groups and that compliance
sometimes requires actual physical changes I believe that the ADA has
been more successful than anyone had a right to expect.

Presidents Bush and Clinton have supported the ADA publicly and through
reasonable enforcement by their (understaffed) Justice Departments. Many
state and local governments followed suit. The disability rights
movement has celebrated, advocated and enforced the law in most communities.

Uncountable millions of substantial accommodations ramps, lifts on
buses, parking places, Braille signs, wide and automatic doors, modified
working places and bathrooms, assistive technology, listening devices,
captions, telephone relays, interpreters have been provided, mostly
voluntarily. More importantly, millions of decision makers have been
forced to recognize people with disabilities as full members of the human
race, as citizens with the power to advocate and to sue for their
rights. In spite of initial business association opposition to the law,
a Harris Poll of a few years ago revealed that 83% of business CEOs
favored the ADA. All this has been accomplished without the avalanche of
lawsuits predicted by early opponents of the Act.

It is often stated that the ADA has not been successful because there are
still 70% of people with disabilities unemployed. This criticism does
not impress me. Employment is determined by numerous physical,
psychological, educational and economic factors, many of which are not
directly regulated by the ADA.

Furthermore, I sense that the measured population of job seekers with
disabilities is changing. Far more people with severe disabilities are
training for, applying for, getting and not getting jobs. This is a slow
process, because we are just now beginning to stop paying people not to
work (WIIA, welfare reform, etc), and to lead them down the long road
from the attitudes of dependency to the attitudes and skills of
competitive work. But progress is being made, and a solid foundation for
more progress is being laid, even though superficial percentages have not
changed much.

Finally, it is totally irrational to judge the ADA in isolation from
history. Our democracy was founded more than 200 years ago and we still
have a monstrous poverty gap. The Ten Commandments were written more
than 3000 years ago and none of them are totally obeyed. Should we judge
democracy and the Ten Commandments unsuccessful?

It may take centuries for ADA to reach all of its goals. On its tenth
anniversary, it is a substantial success. This is not to say that long
term success is assured. Democracy is a fragile thing. The forces of
retreat are powerful, massively funded and dogmatically determined. They
may prevail. We must remain vigilant, passionate and unified in our
advocacy for a just society.

Solidarity forever. Together, we shall overcome.

Justin Dart

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