Parade, events celebrate 25th anniversary of Americans With Disabilities Act

DOVER — When President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans With Disabilities Act on July 26, 1990, the event not only changed law — it changed attitudes.

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

Under the law, individuals can’t be denied equal opportunity because of a disability.

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.

ADA CELEBRATION WHAT: An outdoor celebration of the 25th anniversary of the signing of the ADA  WHEN: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday WHERE: The parade down Loockerman to Legislative Hall will begin at 11 a.m. The celebration will continue on Legislative Mall until 5 p.m. and will include music, entertainment, vendors, exhibitors, giveaways and tours of the U.S. Business Leadership Network’s America’s Disability Rights Museum on Wheels.

ADA CELEBRATION
WHAT: An outdoor celebration of the 25th anniversary of the signing of the ADA
WHEN: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: The parade down Loockerman to Legislative Hall will begin at 11 a.m. The celebration will continue on Legislative Mall until 5 p.m. and will include music, entertainment, vendors, exhibitors, giveaways and tours of the U.S. Business Leadership Network’s America’s Disability Rights Museum on Wheels.

“It took a long time for people to finally come together in the disability rights movement to finally make it happen,” Daniese McMullin-Powell said.

Ms. McMullin-Powell, of Newark, was afflicted with polio in 1949. As a result, she must use a wheelchair.

“This wasn’t something that happened because a few guys in D.C. had a great idea. It was an entirely grassroots movement until a handful of guys in D.C. started listening,” she added.

To mark the 25th anniversary of the signing of the ADA, an outdoor celebration will be held Saturday in Dover beginning at 11 a.m. with a parade down Loockerman Street. After the parade, the celebration will move to Legislative Mall until its conclusion at 5 p.m.

The celebration will include live music, entertainment, vendors, exhibitors, giveaways and tours of the U.S. Business Leadership Network’s America’s Disability Rights Museum on Wheels.

A keynote address will be made by former Democratic U.S. Rep. Tony Coelho of California, the primary sponsor of the ADA who now lives in Rehoboth Beach.

The event will be accessible to those who have access and functional mobility needs and will take place rain or shine.

Ms. McMullin-Powell said it may have taken 26 years after the Civil Rights Act for the ADA to be enacted because many people don’t look at rights for the disabled as “civil rights.”

“The issue of rights for those with disabilities first gained attention in the 1970s with the acts of small groups scattered around the country. But it wasn’t until the late 1980s that the ADA was brought about and even then, nothing was done about it until 1990 when it was finally introduced, then signed,” she said. “One of the last things done to bring attention to the issue was Capitol Crawl.”

Capitol Crawl occurred only days before the signing. That’s when disability activists left their wheelchairs, crutches and other mobility aids at the base of the Capitol and crawled up all 100 steps.

“I’ve been really lucky in that the ADA was signed when I was only 5, so it’s basically been in effect my entire life,” said Emmanuel Jenkins, a Harrington resident with cerebral palsy. “When you look at my life compared to those who had to live without the ADA, our lives are very different.”

Prior to the ADA’s signing, Ms. McMullin-Powell said it could be nerve-racking just going out because she never knew if stores or other businesses would be wheelchair accessible.

“It’s something I barely worry about anymore,” she said. “Now, almost everywhere has ramps so I don’t have to worry about there being a problem when I go shopping or go out for fun. It’s actually become a surprise when I get somewhere and it isn’t accessible.”

Mr. Jenkins said he imagines one of the biggest differences in his life from the older generation probably has to do with employment opportunities.

“People with disabilities used to just be sent to nursing homes and couldn’t get real jobs, but I now have a job with the state and when people find out, they say, ‘Oh my God, you have a state job with benefits?’” he said.

Before his job at the Delaware Developmental Disabilities Council, Mr. Jenkins worked at Wal-Mart. He said people frequently underestimated his capabilities. He uses a wheelchair to get around.

“People always just assumed that I was a door greeter because they thought I couldn’t do anything else when, actually, I was a sales associate in the electronics department,” Mr. Jenkins said.

“Even though I couldn’t do some things like getting items off the shelves for customers, I was very good at my job.”

Even with the ADA, more can be done, Ms. McMullin-Powell said.

ADAPT, the disability rights advocacy organization Ms. McMullin-Powell has been with since 1996, works on behalf of disabled Americans every day, she said.

“So much has changed for the better but there will always be more to do,” she said. “A simple example is my service dog. There are businesses that think service dogs are only for the blind and I’ve been turned away from restaurants and stores before because of it. So there are still lots of things that either need to be changed or that awareness needs to be brought to.”

The future of civil rights for the disabled relies on younger people getting involved to carry on the legacy of those who paved the way, she said.

“Young people like me have been blessed to live with the ADA,” Mr. Jenkins said. “The younger generation just needs to realize that the torch has been passed to us and it’s our responsibility to protect and defend the ADA because otherwise, all the hard work that was done before us could go to waste.”.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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