At the ICS Member/Participant Advisory Council meeting in the Bronx late last month, Senior VP of Advocacy and the Women’s Health Access Project Marilyn Saviola asked members what is different about the world in the 25 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act became law in July of 1990. Without much hesitation, several volunteered, “The buses are accessible!” Others mentioned accessible subway stations and curb cuts. All of these transportation and infrastructure changes have indeed made New York City, and most other large cities across the United States, vastly more open to people who use mobility devices.
Marilyn offered her own suggestion: “Twenty-five years ago, a person in a wheelchair didn’t pick a movie based on all the movies available. You picked one based on which theater you could get into and which could fit a wheelchair in the aisles.” Now thanks to the ADA, almost all movie theaters, especially all built or renovated since 1990, must be wheelchair accessible and have a certain percentage of wheelchair viewing locations. Consequently, as a direct result of the ADA, a person with a disability’s film and entertainment choices have opened up dramatically, as well.
It’s easy to take these programmatic and architectural benefits of the ADA for granted, even though full on access for people with disabilities is far from universal in America. The ADA’s employment provisions are only just starting to budge traditionally high unemployment figures for people with disabilities. And people with disabilities still encounter structural barriers, even at their doctors’ and dentists’ offices. Nevertheless, the amount of social change in the last 25 years—the level of inclusion in everyday society, the range of activities and venues now available—for people with disabilities is astounding. It’s worth taking a good long moment to appreciate all the ADA has accomplished.
At last year’s ADA anniversary celebration at City Hall, Mayor Bill DeBlasio noted, “This is going to be a big year for all of us, because we have a year until the 25th anniversary of the ADA – that’s one of the big ones. So… we have a lot to celebrate on the 25th anniversary. And I look forward to working with each and every one of you on that path to a more just, inclusive New York City.”
“New York City was where the disability rights movement really began,” Marilyn said at the council meeting—and she should know, as a founder of the legendary disability rights group Disabled in Action. As far back as the 1930s, New York was the site of activism to include people with disabilities in the labor force. The hard work of New York activists like Marilyn and ICS Senior VP of Independent Living Services Anna Fay resulted in local, state and federal accessibility laws that preceded and influenced the writing of the ADA.
Celebrate Good Times!
True to his word, the Mayor and the Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities Victor Calise have put together a big program of events called ADA25NYC to mark the law’s first quarter century. The celebration includes lectures, historical exhibitions, art festivals, official ceremonies, and, perhaps most exciting of all, the first annual Disability Pride Parade on Sunday, July 12.
Grand Marshall Tom Harkin, former senator of Iowa who, more than any other member of Congress, made the ADA happen, will lead the marchers from Madison Square Park to Union Square Park in Manhattan. ICS, which is co-sponsoring the entire ADA25NYC celebration, will have its own contingent.
As part of ADA25NYC, ICS will co-sponsor (with United Spinal Association and the NYC/Southern New York Chapter of the MS Society) the 6th Annual “From Within” Women’s Health Conference on Saturday, July 25. Having long outgrown its original home at the ICS Brooklyn Member Center, the venue this year is John Jay College of the City University of New York, which has a state-of-the-art conference center in its architecturally stunning New Building at 860 11th Avenue. (The hall is also accessible by the college’s main entrance on 10th Avenue and 59th Street.) As many as 300 people are expected to attend.
Some of the promised highlights include an awards ceremony, classes in wheelchair Zumba, healthy eating and self-defense, and a panel on disability rights, its past and future. Registration opens June 10. If you’re feeling proud and want to celebrate, it’s a great summer to do it! For a full list of ADA25NYC events, go to: https://on.nyc.gov/2x06LI4.