Philadelphia, July 31 – Gathered in the city of brotherly love, more than a hundred disability activists celebrated the twenty-sixth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on Tuesday.
Current and former officials touted the importance of the ADA and focused specifically on disability employment and economic empowerment for people with disabilities.
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell talked about making employment for people with disabilities his platform while leading the National Governors’ Association – something he said other governors questioned.
“But I knew something: that when we focus on the ability rather than the disability, it’s amazing what we can accomplish together,” the governor said. “I also knew that in a world where Democrats and Republicans so often cannot find common ground, that this was an issue where we would find a way to work together.”
“Republican governors have joined with Democratic governors across the country over the last few years to put employment for people with disabilities high on their agenda and I think it’s important,” he added.
Former Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin said, now that he was no longer a sitting senator, he was glad to be able to focus on his true passion – competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities.
“I may be out of the senate, but by God, I’m not out of the fight!” Harkin said. “I am focused on employment: Jobs, jobs, jobs.”
He called for an end to subminimum wage and the passage of the Disability Integration Act to enable people with disabilities to live where they want with whom they want – and not be forced to live in an institution. Both of these items, Harkin said, are a barrier to true employment.
“We are a better nation because of the ADA. But we still have a way to go to build a truly inclusive America,” Harkin said a few hours later from the Democratic National Convention main stage. “When, 26 years later, 70 percent of adults with disabilities aren’t in the workforce, it’s time to take action.”
Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI), who acquired a disability prior to the enactment of the ADA, touted how the law affected his life and granted people with disabilities legal protections against discrimination but agreed it’s just the beginning.
“To so many of us, I have to say the ADA has probably altered the paradigm, providing new opportunities and fundamentally changing the way society views and treats us,” he said. “But as we all know, there is still so much work that lies ahead, because we haven’t even fully realized the vision and the promise of the Act.”
Langevin listed items like affordable housing, public transportation, education, healthcare, employment and full access and inclusion as items that still are not a reality for many people with disabilities.
“We are much, much closer to realizing the goal and the dream of equality, our full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency of people with disabilities everywhere,” he added. “In so doing, I know that then we will fully, truly realize the full potential of the ADA for generations to come.”
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the ADA recognizes that “all means all” when we say that, “we all have opportunity.”
“Recognize that all of us have abilities and we ought to focus on the ability not the disability,” he added.
Sponsored by AT&T, American Occupational Therapy Association, Association of University Centers on Disabilities, American Association of People with Disabilities, National Down Syndrome Society, Institute on Disabilities at Temple University, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and LEND Center of Pittsburgh, the event celebrated an economic empowerment agenda for Americans with disabilities following the ABLE Act, currently being championed by Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, who also addressed the luncheon.
“People with disabilities have abilities, as long as we give them the tools they need to succeed,” the Pennsylvania senator said.