Who Will Carry the Torch for the Next 25 Years?
by John D. Kemp, President & CEO of The Viscardi Center and an ADA Legacy Project Council Member
Photo credit: Tom Olin
The true essence of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 was to create a formal, legal acknowledgement of the rights of people with disabilities to participate in all aspects of society nationally and serve as a model for the world. While the road towards the 25th anniversary of the passage of the ADA, on July 26, 2015, is a time to celebrate all that has been accomplished, it is also an opportunity to reflect on all there is still to do.
Nearly 25 years since the passage of this landmark legislation, many of us still have not realized the American Dream. Despite the tireless efforts of passionate disability rights leaders from around the country, and the world, the dream of meaningful employment, financial and personal independence, and owning a home continues to be beyond the grasp of many people with disabilities. As a society, we should be measured by how well we embrace diversity of thought, talent, and opinion, and how well we respect what each individual contributes to a community or workplace.
I see ADA25 as another starting point.
A starting point for educating employers about the talented workers with disabilities they are leaving on the sidelines. A starting point for changing mindsets so others welcome our differences and recognize our similarities. A starting point to rally our next generation of disability rights leaders and advocates.
Let’s use this next year to bring attention to and acknowledge influential individuals with disabilities who are today’s mentors and role models so that young people with disabilities see the extraordinary leaders that they themselves can relate to - leaders with disabilities they can aspire to become.
I am fortunate to witness firsthand, at the Henry Viscardi School here at The Viscardi Center, the fire that burns within these youth. Each day these students, medically fragile with severe physical disabilities, with proper supports and services are expanding their minds, developing their self-esteem, building their confidence and standing up for themselves and others. I see their self-advocacy blossoming: from the letter writing campaign a second grade class undertook with an insurance company on behalf of their classmate who was denied a power wheelchair, to student leaders speaking to Fortune 500 companies about how they are these employers’ future workforce. Also, the recent graduates advocating to live on campus and earn degrees at top universities around the country.
Let’s use the ADA Legacy Tour which just kicked off in Houston as a vehicle to raise awareness, showcase and preserve the history of our disability rights movement, and motivate our next generation of disability rights leaders and advocates.
I am confident the youth of our nation will continue our fight for equality. I look forward to watching these emerging leaders carry the torch for the next 25 years…and celebrating their victories.