Disability Rights are Civil Rights – the ADA

I wish I had been at the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, 1990 on the South Lawn of the White House. With the sun shining over 2,000 people with disabilities present, I am sure it was electrifying when President George H.W. Bush signed into law the piece of Civil Rights legislation that would end years of oppression for people with disabilities. What a great day it must have been to see Justin Dart Jr., our disability rights champion, Equal Employment Opportunity Commissioner Evan Kemp, Reverend Harold Wilke, and Vice President Dan Quayle with the First Lady Barbara Bush and President George Herbert Walker Bush come together for the signing of the ADA.                                            

One of my greatest treasures  is a shadow box, in my office with an original signed copy of the Americans with Disabilties Act, displaying a ticket to the event, a pen President Bush used to the sign the ADA, a badge that says ADA ceremony and two index cards with the words Commissioner Evan Kemp typed for his introduction of the President. I purchased this at an auction and the shadow box was arranged by Commission Evan Kemp’s wife, Janine Bertram. It is prominently displayed in my office; I look at it every day.

I tell other business leaders that although I was not present, I make it a point to celebrate the ADA every July, ADA month. As a person living with disabilities, epilepsy and hard of hearing, I feel it is my holiday, our Independence Day.  I would like to share with you a few things I do at Bender Consulting Services to celebrate the month of July, the month the ADA was signed in to law. I hope you will also celebrate the day!

For the past 14 years, I have hosted the radio show, Disability Matters with Joyce Bender. The month of July is dedicated to the signing of the ADA and all month I have guests on the show who were part of the day or are leaders today working to implement and strengthen the ADA. I encourage you to listen to any of the shows, on Apple and Spotify or OnDemand at www.voiceameica.com.  Over the years, my guests have included the Honorable Tony Coelho, Senator Harkin, Governor Thornburgh, Judy Heumann and other disability rights leaders of today.

I speak at various companies and conferences about celebrating the ADA and how it impacts the employment of people with disabilities. It is so exciting when a partner company of mine, like Highmark, sets aside a day to educate their employees about the ADA. It is so important that companies and federal agencies educate employees about the ADA, so they understand that disability rights are civil rights. This represents civil rights history; just as other Acts that have been signed into law in this country have ended the oppression of other minority groups, the ADA provides that same promise of equality to people with disabilities.

Educating my staff and celebrating the signing of the ADA in the month of July is a joyous occasion. So many of my employees are skilled in the knowledge of the ADA, but we also host college interns that have not learned about the ADA in their college curriculum. Continuing education of the ADA is so important for these young people to understand the importance of this law. The best part of talking about the ADA at the office is that it gives us a chance to reconnect with each other and reaffirm why the services we provide are so important; we enjoy celebrating this day, our Independence Day, at Bender Consulting Services

As you can see, we publish blogs celebrating the ADA. This is another way we promote understanding of the ADA and its ongoing impact in the lives of people with disabilities, where it has seen success and where attention needs to be paid to continue the legacy of the ADA.

I attend events in DC like the National Council on Independent Living Walk to the capital and the AAPD Justice for All celebration the week of the day the ADA was signed into law. It is great to gather with so many leaders in the disability and business communities who are interested in advancing the promise of the ADA.

Finally, I talk to Doro Koch Bush, the daughter of President Bush, Tony Coelho and Yoshiko Dart, the wife of the late Justin Dart Jr, during the week or on the anniversary of the ADA to say, “Happy ADA Day!” It is a day we all remember President Bush’s famous quote when he signed the ADA, “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down!”

Please pass this on to others with the hope they too will celebrate this great day!

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