Happy Anniversary, ADA!

The following was written by community activist and retired Capital Metro employee Nancy Crowther. Read more from Nancy in today’s Austin American-Statesman.

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Once upon a time in America there was a wee little community of people with disabilities.  They were called “the handicapped.”

The phrase ‘handicapped” actually comes from a law passed in England in 1504 whereby only wounded solders could be on street corners to beg. They would often tip their hat from their uniform. They came to be known as “handy-cappers.” And so goes the phrase’s origin. Not the best of images but the label was used for people who had “something’ wrong with them.”   I actually thought, as I was growing up, that the only sports people with “handicaps” could play were golf, horse racing and bowling. I led a sheltered life.  I now find the h-word offensive.  I am one of “those” people.

I was taken to school by my father in the station wagon because there were no wheelchair lifts on the school buses. In junior high, still no lifts on buses or accommodations to help me get to school, my father, retired Army Lt. Col., arranged transportation through the US Army base at Fort Hood. I had an ambulance ride to school. Yup, a real-live ambulance with flashing lights so everyone knew when I arrived and left school, every day. That did a job on my social life! It worked!  Got me to school! High School presented a bigger problem, I graduated to an electric wheelchair for mobility.  I had the football team help carry me upstairs to attend class, then we met again and went down the steps.  Not all classes, just one, for a whole, long, miserable semester. By the time I graduated and rolled across the stage to get my diploma, I got a standing ovation.  I think they were glad to see me go….away… and annoy another school.  Actually, in those days not many persons with disabilities made it to graduation and the applause thrilled me to know, they knew the struggles and the victories.

Hook’em Horns!  I was in the UT Centennial graduating class (1983)–that means we all wore burnt orange caps and gowns…yeah, that was a sight!  As I reflect back on it, Charlie Brown and the Pumpkin Patch always comes to mind.  I did a lot of growing up at UT–I learned how to advocate, mentor, protest, negotiate, shout out for my rights and get in trouble. I was no longer the nice little girl in the wheelchair.  I however, was trapped on campus–no lifts on the shuttle service. Funny, this seems to be a haunting theme following me.  My chair could get me just so far…another lesson I learned…never run out of power on 40 + acres!

I got involved with a group of students with disabilities who had the same problem I did. The slogan was: don’t whine, Organize!  I was part  of a class action suit (Ferris, et. al. V The University of Texas) against UT based on discrimination with lack of access to shuttle service.  Using the freight elevator to get to the Federal Court was the cherry-on-top! A Federal Building without access…hummmmm. The odds of winning were grim.

Then came Capital Metro (for which I voted for and support wholeheartedly) and an alliance with a radical wheelchair gang known as ADAPT….demanding lifts on buses.  Chanting “We Will Ride” we disrupted several board meetings to get the concept across to the board and staff that we want to ride public transit–make it so Capital Metro.  We also disturbed, putting it mildly, the American Public Transit Association meetings across the nation. Protesters chained their wheelchairs to the front of buses to stop service.  It happened all across the nation and even at Capital Metro. Cool. Capital Metro relented in 1986 and began buying buses with lifts…what a victory that will live in infamy.

All this time, behind the scenes at the national level, the American’s with Disabilities Act was being developed to prevent discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment practices, access to city resources, public transit, businesses, pedestrian pathways, communication… the list goes on.  Basic civil rights that everyone else has.

July 26, 1990, advocates from across the nation watched as President Bush signed the Act into law. The date is today. Twenty years old now.  A second Declaration of Independence for Americans with Disabilities.

As a retired Accessible Transit Specialist with Capital Metro I had the privilege to implement the ADA regulations, see it all unfold, and yes, I do ride!

I saw a poster once that showed a lift equipped bus and the caption said: With the ADA, Wheelchairs can now go 55 miles an hour.  Zoom-Zoom.  Happy 20th Anniversary ADA!!

2 thoughts on “Happy Anniversary, ADA!

  1. Luke Easter

    Yes! Those With Disabilities Are People Too!

    Attended a Saturday prayer breakfast a couple weeks back,
    On Noble Road in Cleveland Heights is where it was at,
    A traditional speaker, offering, then we were on our feet,
    Headed to the chow line, oh yeah, now it’s time to eat.

    Must admit at first I was more than just a little bit dismayed,
    Although not required there was one guest, who did not pay,
    When the basket was passed in front of him nothing came,
    Then after the presentation out came his red and white cane.

    Well, no wonder he didn’t acknowledge it when passed around,
    And moving down the isle 6 people almost knocked him down,
    Startled was I because of the apparent rudeness and disrespect,
    We see that on the street but in a place of worship such neglect?

    The House of our Lord and he was almost run over by sightful legs,
    Because several knuckleheads wanted to be first for bacon & eggs,
    So, I wondered what might have happened in a store or at the mall,
    How many would’ve gone out of their way to pick him up from a fall.

    It is the year of our Lord 2010 and we live in very perilous times,
    On the phone Bill Grant reminded me of how many are so unkind,
    His son Phillip has Cerebral Palsy and is confined to a wheelchair,
    Yeah William, I hate to say you’re right but people really don’t care

    Encountering those less fortunate, cruel things do you think and say?
    Should they need help do you walk toward or run the other way?
    “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet, ”
    This quote must be foremost in our minds for everyone we meet.

    It took a lot of pressure & perseverance but twenty years ago today,
    Then President George H. Bush on 07/26/90 signed into law the ADA,
    A bill that finally made discrimination against disabilities an illegal act,
    For jobs, transportation, restaurants and housing, a long overdue fact.

    There was actually a start-up movement five years before, okay where?
    Several wheelchairs blocked bus routes, Cleveland, Ohio Public Square,
    The police were taking them to jail and the reason they didn’t get there?
    There’s no access to the paddy wagons or at the jail for their wheelchairs.

    No, not everyone yet it seems there are less for them and more against,
    Physically challenged their lives are backed up against society’s fence,
    The world needs to rejuvenate its negative thinking with a positive view,
    What would our Lord say? Yes! Those With Disabilities Are People Too!

    By Luke Easter

  2. renee

    Reading Nancy’s blog about ADA reminded me of a time, not so long ago, when there was no accessibility, much less, accessible transportation, for people with disabilities, here in Austin, where I grew up. How well I remember, as I’m sure my family does too, of my having to rely on my brother’s, sister and family to drive me wherever I needed to go, help me climb stairs, sidewalks, inaccessible bathrooms, theaters, restaurants and many other barrier’s in my life. ADA has changed all that, but I take this moment to thank my family for never giving up, for your love and support, that ultimately helped changed not only the quality of my life but the lives of other people with disabilities, for the better!
    Family member’s helped make ADA possible too.

    Love,
    Nee

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