By Steve Suroviec, President and CEO
I started as an intern for then-Congressman Tom Ridge in August 1990. I didn’t realize it at the time, but just weeks earlier the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) had been passed by Congress and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. My sister used a wheelchair and so for years I had witnessed the challenges society placed in front of her – stairs, curbs, air travel barriers, and public programs that paid for institutions but not home-based supports, just to name a few. But even with that experience, I didn’t fully understand or appreciate the importance of the ADA until years later.
After being hired as a full-time staffer, my job on Capitol Hill led me to be immersed in issues faced by the citizens in the congressional district. Back then, we’d receive hundreds of letters and phone calls per week on issues ranging from taxes and budget deficits to health care and defense spending (some things never change!). A lot of correspondence came from constituents with disabilities who’d raise concerns about obstacles they faced just because of their disability. In a few short years, these calls and letters, coupled with my own sister’s experience, led me to realize how important the ADA really was and how consequential it was going to be in the future.
Fast forward to today, we know the ADA has helped millions upon millions of people with disabilities. But not just those with disabilities - the ADA has helped their families, their friends, the economy in general, and society overall. So much progress has been made that younger people with disabilities may make the mistake of taking certain things for granted, such as curb cuts, ramps, automatic doors, reasonable accommodations at work, public buses with wheelchair lifts, and countless forms of assistive technology. But these things didn’t “just happen.” Rather, they were made possible because of the risk taking, the hard work, and the persistence of those visionary advocates who – before 1990 - weren’t satisfied with the status quo. They exist today because of the ADA.
This July 26th, let us remember and thank those involved in getting the ADA adopted in 1990. Many of those advocates have since passed away, but one way to honor them is by living full lives in the community and maximizing every opportunity the ADA makes possible. Next year will mark the 30th anniversary of the ADA – let’s start celebrating now.
As always, please feel free to contact me with constructive comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.