Access Living CEO Marca Bristo on the 28th Anniversary of the ADA

Today is the 28th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — the landmark legislation that affirms people with disabilities have equal rights under the law. George H Bush signed it after disability advocates demanded better… better access, better education, better jobs.

We’ve made a lot of progress toward living the lives we choose in the past 28 years, and disability awareness is growing. But the spirit of the ADA has not been fully realized, and the battle for our rights continues.

On the national level, disabled people are at great risk of seeing our civil rights rolled back at the US Supreme Court. At the same time, some business leaders continue to press Congress to weaken the ADA. And Mary Lazare, the principal deputy administrator at the Federal Administration on Community Living, made controversial remarks recently at two national gatherings of disability advocates calling into question the administration’s stance on institutionalization.

Here in Illinois, years without a state budget have taken their toll on much needed disability services and supports. For example, more than 19,000 people with developmental disabilities remain on what is effectively a waitlist for home and community based services, people with mental illness are stigmatized and incarcerated, thousands go without technology they need, and we face an insufficient Medicaid service system.

In Chicago, our annual analysis of the Chicago Public Schools’ budget shows that students with disabilities still need better support. The Chicago Transit Authority recently came out with a plan to make all of its rail stations accessible — a huge step forward — but they don’t have the funds for it, and it will take 20 years to complete.

With all that we face on this ADA anniversary, now is the time to reaffirm our national commitment to the ADA and all that it stands for. Disability is part of the human experience and it impacts everyone at some point in life.

When I think about how disability touches us all, I’m reminded of the core group of activists and allies who galvanized nationwide to make the ADA a reality. We did it not just because it was the right thing to do, but because our livelihoods depended on it, and I’m encouraged to see the same power, drive, and dedication in today’s disability advocates and allies. They have banded together over the past year to fight back federal and state attacks on healthcare, home and community based services, and the ADA.At Access Living, we are proud to count ourselves among them.

We must keep up the fight because we are the ADA’s legacy, and it’s abundantly clear that we must do more to meet the needs of thousands of people with different sorts of disabilities in our neighborhoods. At no time since the passage of ADA has the loud and proud voice of people with disabilities been more important. To commemorate the ADA…get involved. Vote. Protest. Write letters. Make your voice heard!