Dover rally celebrates Americans with Disabilities Act

DOVER — Emmanuel Jenkins, a Harrington resident with cerebral palsy, graduated from high school with a diploma, got married, became a father and started his own business.

He said it was all made possible by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, which created a formal legal acknowledgment of the rights of people with disabilities to participate in all aspects of society nationally and serve as a model for the world.

To mark the 25th anniversary of the ADA signing, an outdoor celebration took place on Saturday at Legislative Mall, featuring live music, entertainment and Delawareans with disabilities representing the ADA’s past, present and future.

“When the act was established I was only five years old,” Mr. Jenkins said. “For as long I can remember the ADA has been in place. A lot of things that people with disabilities dealt with before it I never experienced, due to the act being in place for the most part of my life.”

Today the ADA directly affects about 57 million Americans, including 187,000 Delaware residents, officials said.

The ADA act was signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H.W. Bush. The groundbreaking civil rights legislation prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, telecommunications, and transportation.

A disabled person now has guaranteed access to employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, telecommunications, transportation, and inclusion in all aspects of community life.

Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Tony Coelho of California, the primary sponsor of the ADA, who now lives in Rehoboth Beach, said it was his determination to make a difference.

“There were a lot people behind what we were trying to do,” Mr. Coelho said. “President Bush signed the law. He had a child that died of a disability, so he understood what the ADA was all about. He was aggressively for it and helped us pass it and get it to become a law.

“I’m still committed and spend a lot time helping people because of what I’ve been through. It’s has become my ministry and determination to make a difference. It opened up doors of opportunity with people and that’s what it’s all about.”

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., in a video message, said the act has helped millions of Americans live up to their full potential.

“Millions of people have better access to quality health care, schools, workplaces, technology and innovation to live more independent lives,” Vice President Biden said. “So much work went into passing this landmark, as it gave the full meaning to value the fairness of equality and opportunity.”

Mr. Jenkins, now an administrative specialist for the Delaware Developmental Disabilities Council, said he hopes to continue the ADA’s work.

“It’s like they passed the torch down to me,” Mr. Jenkins said. “It’s up to the newer generation to continue to be proactive, so all the hard work of the people that helped us get to this point won’t go undone.”

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