Events were held across the country Monday to mark the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act. At a ceremony at the White House, disability rights activists made the point that passing the law was only the start. "Civil rights laws do not self-enforce, " said Marca Bristo, "They only come to life when enlightened citizens…push the envelope."
As with racial apartheid, so with the passage of the ADA—first comes change on the books. Then we need change in our heads. As last week’s Shirley Sherrod story reminds us, who do we believe is capable of what? Discrimination in our heads is as deadly as any law.
Against all the odds, thousands of people with all manner of special challenges showed they were more than able to do the seemingly impossible. They forced a foot-dragging Congress to pass and a Republican president to sign the most significant civil rights legislation in twenty years. And every time we find a a step replaced by a slope—we have them to thank.
A law like the ADA would certainly have changed my family’s life. I don’t have time to go into it. But suffice to say, I was lucky to learn early what people with disabilities face—and what, regardless, they do. In honor of all those who did—and do—the impossible, here’s a reminder. Are the rest of us ready to get over our disabled way of thinking about what’s possible? This is from 1967. In a packed Broadway theater…
The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Support us by signing up for our podcast, and follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.