Today, the National Council on Disability (NCD) joins the rest of America in celebrating the 22nd anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. As we do, we also celebrate NCD’s own history as the federal agency that proposed the landmark legislation.
As we consider the progress made in over two decades, we also use the anniversary to recommit ourselves to the full achievement of the ADA’s potential – that “equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency” is possible for every American, including those with disabilities.
Truly, this law warrants every celebratory observation it enjoys each year. Since its passage, the ADA has opened doors – literally and proverbially – for the more than 54 million Americans with disabilities, and everyone else, too. That’s because disability laws are hardly legal protections for the select few. Everyone benefits from the ADA. That’s because, in addition to the law’s visible impacts – curb cuts and ramps and the like -- anyone at any time can join the disability community due to aging, illness, or injury, as our wounded warriors and burgeoning senior population know well.
Because so many Americans’ lives are touched by disability directly or through a loved one, it’s not surprising that disability issues enjoy a proud history of bipartisan support. The ADA was a poignant example of that 22 years ago -- a Republican President appointed the members of the small federal agency – our agency – that conceived of the ADA; a Democrat-controlled House and Senate passed the ADA with broad Republican support; and Republican President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law on this day 22 years ago on the South Lawn of the White House.
A more recent example of the truly bipartisan quality of disability right issues came to mind again in recent months in the U.S. Senate. Six years after an American delegation under President George W. Bush helped negotiate and approve the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and three years after President Obama signed the Convention, Republican Senators John McCain, Jerry Moran, and John Barrasso, and Democratic Senators John Kerry, Dick Durbin, Tom Harkin, and Tom Udall all announced their support for U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in May following the submission of the treaty package to the Senate. At the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the Convention just this month, written or oral testimony from former President George H.W. Bush, former Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, and Senator Bob Dole was also received in strong support of the Convention. NCD staunchly supports ratification of the Convention and is hopeful that the full Senate provides its consent for ratification in the days ahead.
As this most recent example continues to drive home – disability rights are no longer a radical concept. They are the norm; the standard. Those who oppose equal access and inclusion are increasingly out of touch with the majority of Americans, and, indeed, the rest of the world.
New battles seem perpetually ours, just as our disability rights movement forbearers have taught us by life examples spanning decades. Persistently high unemployment, school bullying, entitlement reform… the work never seems completed.
But let us take heart. In the words of Henry Ford: “Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, and working together is success.” So with the same spirited determination that our community’s leaders demonstrated in securing the law we celebrate today, let us march and roll together to greet the next wall with our hammers of justice and our shared hope as our unifying bond. Happy anniversary, ADA! Lead on! Lead on!