A word of thanks for the Americans with Disabilities Act

Haddayr Copley-Woods
Haddayr Copley-Woods lives in Minneapolis and is a writer, blogger and mother.
Courtesy Haddayr Copley-Woods

As the physically disabled parent of a developmentally disabled child, I am deeply grateful today.

Things used to be different for people like us: such as for Barb, a girl I knew growing up. She was bright, ambitious and she also had a form of autism. Her parents had to fight to keep her in regular education classes -- sometimes unsuccessfully. After the senior class elected her president, the faculty advisor resigned. The advisor said she wouldn't work with a girl she called a "retard." For Barb, the emotional and educational impact was devastating.

And in the '70s and '80s, all of this was perfectly legal.

Today, my autistic son has enthusiastic, educated teachers. He has mandated supports in his regular-ed classroom. He feels valued at school. No one has ever called him a "retard."

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All this because of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA outlawed discrimination against disabled people in employment, transportation, and education. It mandated reasonable accommodations.

And in 20 years, it has made a tremendous difference. We now have ramps, elevators, education plans, and wheel-chair-accessible crosswalks. Restaurants can't ban our assistance dogs.

While the impact of the ADA has been profound, there is still a lot to do. Employers are still reluctant to hire disabled people. Studies have found disabled adults are two to three times more likely to live in poverty than adults without disabilities. And we're still fighting for the Community Choice Act, which would help keep disabled people from being institutionalized.

But I have faith we'll win those battles. Here's why: the ADA didn't give disabled people equal rights under the law. Disabled people took those rights. And gimps are hardcore.

I get choked up every time I roll my wheelchair onto a bus lift. I think about the protests in the '80s. People blocking the road: Glorious, bold, furious people with palsy, paralysis, atrophied muscles, missing limbs. I think about them throwing themselves out of their wheelchairs onto hard, filthy city streets to block traffic. Shouting. Chanting. And yes, by golly, drooling, shrieking, and groaning as they were arrested.

It is thanks to those protestors in Denver and Cleveland, to sit-ins in Washington and San Francisco -- thanks to decades of tireless activism in L.A., Chicago, and Boston -- that we now have the ADA.

So, while we still have work to do, today I just want to say thanks to you wonderful, loud, fierce cripples. Thank you for your anger. Thank you for your hard work. Thank you for what you've done for me and for my son. For all of us.

And if anyone sees me blinking hard on the bus lift some morning, don't mistake my tears for pain: I cry because I'm so grateful and proud to be in such brilliant company.


Haddayr Copley-Woods, Minneapolis, Minneapolis, is a copywriter, blogger and mother.