Remarks from Marca Bristo at the White House Celebration commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the ADA

White House 20th Anniversary

ADA Anniversary Celebratio
July 26, 2010

Remarks by Marca Bristo, President and CEO, Access Living

President, United State International Council on Disabilities

Former Chairperson, National Council on Disability


Mr. President, Members of Congress; friends and colleagues this is a great day!

Let’s hear it – Happy Birthday ADA!

More than 20 years ago the then little known National Council on Disability — led by Sandra Parrino, Justin Dart, and Lex Frieden — launched the most comprehensive civil rights law since the Civil Rights Act of 1964. At first it was met with hesitancy but then a rag-tag army of people who couldn’t hear, couldn’t walk, couldn’t talk, couldn’t see and couldn’t speak did what everybody said couldn’t be done. We re-educated Congress and together we passed the ADA. In my good friend, former Congressman Tony Coelho’s words, we did this by sharing the “scar tissue” of our lives. We sent policymakers thousands of discrimination diaries – snap shots of what it was like to be a disabled person in 1989! Our rally cry was just two simple words: “Simple Justice.” The legislative process wasn’t simple, but we forged that bipartisan alliance and made history.

I want to say thank you to our leaders. To my heroes, all of you, people like Pat Wright, the general, Liz Savage, Judy Heuman, Ralph Neas, Dick and Ginny Thornburg ,Bobbie Silverstein, Paul Marchard, Bob Burgdorf, Carolyn Osolinik, Michael Winter, Yoshiko Dart, John Kemp, Chai Feldblun and so many others. And to our congressional partners who reached across the aisle — joined in common purpose — through the universality of the disability experience. Thank you so much….. Senators Harkin, Dole, Weicker, Hatch, Durbin, and the late Senators Kennedy and Simon and to our friends in the other house, Congressman Coehlo, Owens, Hoyer, Bartlett, Fish, and so many others. We could not have done this without all of your tireless effort.

But today we are here not only to celebrate the law and the incredible transformation of society it has set in motion. We are really here to celebrate the incredible power of the disabilities rights movement and our allies – all of you!

The changes that this law called for – lifts on buses, accessible facilities, streets and public services, accessible ATMs, telecommunications and access to workplace and many others– could not and would not have happened without us. Civil rights laws do not self-enforce. They only come to life when enlightened citizens — people who say no to the outdated policies of segregation, dependence and paternalism — seize their rights and push the envelope of reform.

Today I am reminded of those heroes of our movement who are no longer with us: Justin Dart, Ed Roberts, Frank Bowe, Elizabeth Boggs, Wade Blank, Sharon Mistler, Evan Kemp, Judi Chamberlain, Paul Hearne, Howie the Harp and so many others. And I look out in the crowd and see the next generation of leaders like Erin Mallicoat, Maryiam Cementwala and Ari Ne’eman . And then I think of those people still locked up in institutions, people like, my fellow Illinoisans, Stanley Ligas, Ethel Williams, and Lenil Colbert. It is for all of them that we must redouble our efforts. We will not stop fighting the systemic and illegal institutionalization of people with disabilities who are today are languishing in nursing homes and other institutions.

And I want to say a special thank you, Mr. President, to you, your administration and Attorney General Holder in particular for making Olmstead enforcement a priority of your administration.

As we look forward to the next 20 years, I know we will prevail, we will prevail because our cause is just and right. We will prevail because I believe in all of you!

President Obama, members of Congress, we ask you to join us in the unfinished business of the ADA, the IDEA, the FHAA, importantly now in ratifying the CRPD, the first human rights treaty of the 21st century.

In the words of our trusted and beloved leader, Justin Dart Jr., when he led us in this great cause for justice and equality - ADA, America wins. I have a button from the actual signing ceremony that Yoshika has given me to give to the President – and I want you to help me close our ceremony in words that I know you all know, Justin’s words,

“Colleagues together we have overcome. Together we shall overcome. Lead on!”

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