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For the sake of all of us, keep fighting for disability rights

Thirty years ago this weekend, the Americans with Disabilities Act broke down barriers for people with all types of disabilities, opening access to transportation, education, recreation, business and employment.

The Americans With Disabilities Act “took a sledgehammer” to barriers, writes Karen Tamley, president and CEO of Access Living.
Alex Brandon/Associated Press

This Sunday, July 26, marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the largest piece of civil rights legislation yet to pass. It broke down barriers for people with all types of disabilities, opening access to transportation, education, recreation, business, employment and more.

I had the privilege of being at the White House when President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law. Little did I understand then — as a wheelchair user — how the stroke of his pen would fundamentally change my life, and the lives of millions of disabled people.

As a child, I wasn’t allowed to attend my public elementary school due to my disability. I couldn’t board a bus because they did not have wheelchair lifts. Simply crossing a street independently was impossible due to the lack of curb ramps. My friends lifted my wheelchair up the steps of stores and restaurants because they weren’t required to be accessible.

The ADA took a sledgehammer to these barriers. Now, my 14-year-old disabled daughter is growing up in a world that’s more accessible than the one I experienced. Yet, as we commemorate phenomenal progress for people with disabilities, there’s still much work to be done.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the inequities disabled people have long faced. The death-rate has soared for those with underlying health conditions we know as disabilities, particularly for Black and brown people. As the virus spreads throughout nursing homes and institutions that segregate disabled people, it has exposed how desperately we need investments in community-based services.

Disabled people are disproportionately unemployed, and in Chicago the poverty rate is twice as high for disabled people compared to people without disabilities. These are stark reminders that the promises of the ADA have yet to be fulfilled.

This anniversary, it’s important to reflect on and celebrate progress. But it’s also a time to address the urgent needs and systemic barriers that remain for our community: lack of economic opportunity and access to affordable, accessible housing and healthcare to name a few.

People with disabilities must lead the way, but we also need leaders in government, business, philanthropy and other justice movements to recognize that all of us will likely benefit from the ADA at some point in our lives, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to advance disability rights.

Karen Tamley,
President and CEO
Access Living

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What is patriotism?

Real patriotism requires sacrifice. It is about more than willingness to give one’s life for one’s country in wartime while those amassing money from the war cynically look on. Patriotism is a willingness to share one’s wealth, through taxation, for the sake of the common welfare.

The Floridian does owe the New Yorker a share of his wealth. The middle-aged single person does owe an education to children who are not his own. The healthy do owe the sick financial help — sometimes called insurance.

The employer does owe his employee a living wage.

There is nothing wrong with this country that couldn’t be cured by a more equitable distribution of wealth. There’s nothing wrong with this country that couldn’t be cured by brotherly love.

Let the draft-dodging president, the one who refuses to reveal his income tax return — and who sends federal forces into cities as agent provocateurs so he can run on a “law and order” platform — demonstrate compassion and real patriotism.

Marion J. Reis, Lombard