Good morning Austin:
Twenty-five years ago, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law.
At the signing, President Bush was flanked by Evan Kemp, chairman, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and Justin Dart, chairman, President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities (right). Standing are the Rev. Harold Wilke (left) and Sandra Swift Parrino, chairperson, National Council on Disability (right).
There was a celebration yesterday at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum of the extraordinary role Texans played in enactment of the landmark civil rights legislation, beginning, of course, with President Bush and Justin Dart, but including scores of other Texans who were honored yesterday at the Bullock as “Texas Trailblazers.”
The keynote address was delivered by Lex Frieden, one of the chief authors of the ADA and former executive director of the National Council on Disabilities .President George W. Bush later appointed Frieden chairman of the NCD and the Senate confirmed his appointment on July 26, 2002, the anniversary of the signing of the ADA
Last year, Frieden was a guest speaker at the LBJ Library Civil Rights Summit in Austin – which featured appearances by former Presidents Carter, Clinton and George W. Bush and President Obama – albeit only after protests by disability activists persuaded the Library that they merited inclusion at the civil rights celebration.
A professor of biomedical informatics and rehabilitation at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, Frieden is also director of the Independent Living Research Utilization program at TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital, where he did his rehabilitation after a car accident during his first year in college severed his spinal cord, and where he worked with Gov. Greg Abbott on his rehabilitation after the accident that crushed his spine and left him a paraplegic.
In opening his remarks, Frieden noted that on his way over that morning from the hotel to the Bullock Museum, “I drove my wheelchair down here and I noticed Austin people were being friendly as I was riding down the sidewalk and a lady who was crossing the street pointed me out to her children and I thought my wheelchair must be on fire or something. And then a man kind of put his fingers up against his forehead and tipped his head, kind of like a pickup driver out in the country in Texas, and I said, “Good morning.” And I got over here toward the museum and a lady came over to me and she shook my hand and she said, “Sir, I voted for you.” and I said, “Ma’am, I’ll do my best to earn your trust.”
“So I think I’m going to spend a little more time up on the Hill. You know there’s something to be said for an old man in a wheelchair with gray hair.”
Here is a brief description of the ADA from the organizers of yesterday’s event:
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H.W. Bush. The ADA is one of America’s most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life — to enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services.
Modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin – and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 — the ADA is an “equal opportunity” law for people with disabilities.
“We’re not done yet,” said Frieden. “We’ve got a lot more to do. Fortunately, we now have a law that protects us from discrimination.”
Frieden outlined four lessons of the ADA.
1. The importance of self-advocacy. The ADA movement began with self advocacy – people with disabilities who understood the need to speak on their own behalf, who took the initiative and didn’t wait for others to press on, people who were engaged in the independent living movement and the ADAPT movement began in this process – people learning to represent themselves.
2. The importance of coalitions. Were it not for the fact that deaf people and blind people and people with mental and cognitive impairments and people with physical disabilities were working together, we wouldn’t have the ADA. So cross-disability coalitions is something we need to embrace and we need to continue working in that direction.
3. Leadership. At some point, many years ago, I said to Justin Dart, `Justin, you’re going to be our Martin Luther King.’ Justin looked at me and he said, `No I’m not and we can’t wait on Martin Luther King. We need to work together.’ And Justin was a good example of distributive leadership. He could have been our Marin Luther King. He could have been a czar of the disability movement, but he knew that in order for this movement to continue on after his lifetime he would have to distribute leadership and he embedded in all of those of us who worked with him, and I beg all those who worked with him, to do so for the younger generation, inspire leadership, instill leadership, encourage leadership because everyone here can be and must be a leader or we stop in our tracks right now.”
Dart is an extraordinary figure.
Here from an June 2002 obit of Dart by Fred Fay and Fred Pelka, written at Dart’s request. It is well worth reading the whole thing.
They (Dart and his Japanese wife, Yoshiko) moved to Texas in 1974, and immersed themselves in local disability activism. From 1980 to 1985, Dart was a member, and then chair, of the Texas Governor’s Committee for Persons with Disabilities.
His work in Texas became a pattern for what was to follow: extensive meetings with the grassroots, followed by a call for the radical empowerment of people with disabilities, followed by tireless advocacy until victory was won.
In 1981, President Ronald Reagan appointed Dart to be the vice-chair of the National Council on Disability. The Darts embarked on a nationwide tour, at their own expense, meeting with activists in every state. Dart and others on the Council drafted a national policy that called for national civil rights legislation to end the centuries old discrimination of people with disabilities — what would eventually become the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
In 1986, Dart was appointed to head the Rehabilitation Services Administration, a $3 billion federal agency that oversees a vast array of programs for disabled people. Dart called for radical changes, and for including people with disabilities in every aspect of designing, implementing, and monitoring rehabilitation programs. Resisted by the bureaucracy, Dart dropped a bombshell when he testified at a public hearing before Congress that the RSA was “a vast, inflexible federal system which, like the society it represents, still contains a significant portion of individuals who have not yet overcome obsolete, paternalistic attitudes about disability.” Dart was asked to resign his position, but remained a supporter of both Presidents Reagan and Bush. In 1989, Dart was appointed chair of the President’s Committee on the Employment of People with Disabilities, shifting its focus from its traditional stance of urging business to “hire the handicapped” to advocating for full civil rights for people with disabilities.
Dart is best known for his work in passing the Americans with Disabilities Act. In 1988, he was appointed, along with parents’ advocate Elizabeth Boggs, to chair the Congressional Task Force on the Rights and Empowerment of Americans with Disabilities. The Darts again toured the country at their own expense, visiting every state, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the District of Columbia, holding public forums attended by more than 30,000 people. Everywhere he went, Dart touted the ADA as “the civil rights act of the future.” Dart also met extensively with members of Congress and staff, as well as President Bush, Vice President Quayle, and members of the Cabinet. At one point, seeing Dart at a White House reception, President Bush introduced him as “the ADA man.” The ADA was signed into law on July 26, 1990, an anniversary that is celebrated each year by “disability pride” events all across the country.
You may recall reading in January about Archer Hadley, a student at Austin High School who raised money to install automatic doors at Austin High.
Throughout his years in Austin schools, he had never gone to one he could enter unassisted. His mother said there were no schools in the district with automatic doors.
It was a circumstance that increasingly wounded Hadley’s pride. For years, he and his mother beseeched the district to do something, to no avail. District officials said that they were in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and that there was no money for automatic doors. Last year, Hadley exited the elevator on the third floor of Austin High onto the exposed patio. Before he could gain re-entry into the school, he was caught in a downpour that left him cold, soaked to the bone and fed up.
As a student in the schools’ Academy of Global Leadership, he had to do a community service Capstone project his senior year. He determined this would be it. He and his mother estimated the price of installing the automatic doors at about $40,000 and set about raising the money with a challenge in which sponsors would pay to have a student or teacher spend a day at Austin High in a wheelchair.
Abbott, then governor-elect, came to Austin High School, for the ceremony
“I am here because Archer Hadley called me out, he dared and challenged me to come to help him unveil the product of his hard work,” Abbott said. “When I heard that, I knew instantly that this was a place I wanted to be.”
Abbott said that Hadley’s mother, Barbara, like his own, had taught him that “there are two words that do not belong together in the state of Texas, and those two words are ‘I can’t.’ ”
Hadley came to the Bullock Museum yesterday where he had a chance to meet Lex Frieden.
I asked Archer how the automatic doors were working out, and he said they had worked out well, but the motor on one of the doors had burnt out and had to be replaced because people kept trying to open it manually.
The attention he garnered has made Archer a sought-after motivational speaker.
“I’m literally booked for the next three and half months with at least one or two events a month,” he said.
His mother, Barbara said that they were recently at the Arboretum when First Lady Cecilia Abbott, who was buying something for her husband at Restoration Hardware, caught sight of Archer rolling by and chased after them to say hello and tell them how impressed the governor was with Archer.
“We talked for about 45 minutes.”
At the Austin High event in January:
Abbott called on the attendees to just imagine “what kind of world this would be if everyone in this world were like Archer Hadley.” Beyond their shared circumstance, Abbott and Hadley share a political viewpoint. Hadley, whose grandfather is former Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Archer of Houston, who chaired the House Ways and Means Committee, has an Abbott sticker affixed to the back of his wheelchair.
“I like your bumper sticker,” Abbott said. “You can do a 360 if you want to.”
And with that, Hadley gave the Permobil C500 a twirl.
On meeting Frieden yesterday, Archer once again swung around his wheelchair to let Frieden see his Abbott sticker but, lo and behold, someone at the event had attempted to affix an ADA Texas Trailblazers sticker over it.
Archer will be starting the University of Texas in the fall.
What Abbott could do
I asked Frieden what Abbott could do to demonstrate his commitment to the disability community.
Early on I think he could send a message if he were to appoint a commission of people with disabilities, maybe an advisory committee to the Governor’s Office, whose job it would be to review some of the outstanding policy issues in the state. The unemployment rate among people with disabilities is a big one. Another one is home care for people in our state. We have far too many people in nursing homes who should be living in the community if we had the support services that are necessary and we could save money doing so. That’s the kind of thing that fits his paradigm. And to move forward on them, I think he could benefit from the advice of an advisory committee that he could hand-pick.
I am also going to be looking at the appointments he makes to boards and commissions. Does he reach out and find capable people with disabilities to serve on boards and commissions. That would be a powerful message. He has already demonstrated that a person with a disability can serve in this capacity. I’d like to see him reach down and bring some more leadership forward.
The way our issues are presently framed in the context of Medicaid funding, opportunities are largely being ignored. The Legislature essentially tries to avoid too much discussion of that because there are budgetary implications.
What I’m talking about is developing an infrastructure that people can use regardless of whether they’re eligible for benefits or not. There are a lot of retired people today who are getting disability. They want to live in their own home, their family members are caring for them but their family members can’t leave work to provide assistance to them throughout the day. We have plenty of folks who could do that if we developed a system of referral and training and that’s something that wouldn’t require tens of millions of dollars. It would simply implement structures we could develop that would allow people to be more independent.
If your parents are at home and prefer to stay at home rather than go into a nursing home, you can’t care for them and work, and if you’re looking for someone to do that work, the only options you may have are calling anther family member or a nursing service, where the costs are prohibitive. If we could create a public service that would provide, like Angie’s List, linkage between people who are able and have the time to do that and people who need that assistance – we have the technology now to find those kind of on-line meeting places – why don’t we develop that technology, why don’t we meet multiple needs with one solution.
In order to work for a nursing service you have to have a lot of training and certification, probably more training and certification than are needed to help your father get lunch prepared.
Bob Kafka is the co-founder and leader of ADAPT of Texas, a disability rights group based in Austin, that was instrumental in putting together yesterday’s program.
Back at the ADAPT office on East 2nd, Kafka, who was involved in street protests and civil disobedience in the campaign for the ADA, recalled what a bipartisan effort its enactment by Congress was. Wouldn’t happen today, he said, with Republicans, like Governor Abbott, committed to a states’ rights approach that would never concede that kind of power to the federal government.
Of Abbott, Kafka said, “Many people in the disability community are very proud that a disabled person could be governor, but we but are just not going to give him a bye because he has a disability.”
Kafka notes that Justin Dart was in Reagan’s kitchen cabinet and chaired People with Disabilities for Ronald Reagan.
But his politics changed over time, Kafka said, largely through his involvement on the health care issue during the Clinton administration.
The obit commissioned by Dart explained:
After passage of the ADA, Dart threw his energy into the fight for universal health care, again campaigning across the country, and often speaking from the same podium as President and Mrs. Clinton. With the defeat of universal health care, Dart was among the first to identify the coming backlash against disability rights. He resigned all his positions to become “a full-time citizen soldier in the trenches of justice.” With the conservative Republican victory in Congress in 1994, followed by calls to amend or even repeal the ADA and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (or IDEA), Dart, and disability rights advocates Becky Ogle and Frederick Fay, founded Justice for All, what Dart called “a SWAT team” to beat back these attacks. Again, Dart was tireless — traveling, speaking, testifying, holding conference calls, presiding over meetings, calling the media on its distortions of the ADA, and flooding the country with American flag stickers that said, “ADA, IDEA, America Wins.” Both laws were saved. Dart again placed the credit with “the thousands of grassroots patriots” who wrote and e-mailed and lobbied. But there can be no doubt that without Dart’s leadership, the outcome might have been entirely different.
In 1996, confronted by a Republican Party calling for “a retreat from Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln democracy,” Dart campaigned for the re-election of President Clinton. This was a personally difficult “decision of conscience.” Dart had been a Republican for most of his life, and had organized the disability constituency campaigns of both Ronald Reagan and George Bush, campaigning against Clinton in 1992. But in a turnabout that was reported in the New York Times and the Washington Post, Dart went all out for Clinton, even speaking at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The Darts yet again undertook a whirlwind tour of the country, telling people to “get into politics as if your life depended on it. It does.” At his speech the day after the election, President Clinton publicly thanked Dart for personally campaigning in all fifty states, and cited his efforts as “one reason we won some of those states.”
Tom Olin has over many years been active in the disability rights movement and has been a photographer of the movement. The vintage photos on today’s First Reading were taken by Olin.
He is also the driver of the ADA Road to Freedom bus, which, since July, has been crisscrossing the country on the occasion of the ADA anniversary, and which led a march of advocates from the Bullock Museum to the Capitol after yesterday’s program. On Monday, the bus made several stops in Austin, including at Austin High.
Today it heads to Plano.
In 2006, Olin piloted the bus on another ADA tour of 48 states.
The purpose of the bus is not just to raise the profile of the ADA but to commemorate, and remind people, of the disability rights movement – a civil rights movement – without which it would never have come to pass.
I’ll finish up with excerpts from the obits of two of the other people, aside from Justin Dart, pictured alongside President Bush when he signed the ADA.
From Evan Kemp’s obituary in the New York Times:
Evan J. Kemp Jr., who had to take a Government job in 1964 because nobody else would hire a disabled lawyer, died at a hospital near his home in Washington on Tuesday, satisfied that he had helped to make the world a bit more accepting of people like him. He was 60 and, as the chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1990, helped shape the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act.
For a man in a wheelchair, Mr. Kemp cut a fancy swath through the corridors of power. That was partly because he was an expert bridge player who had card-playing cronies all over official Washington, and partly because he was so bright that as his friend C. Boyden Gray, who was President George Bush’s counsel, put it yesterday, ”He was usually three steps ahead of everybody else and would sort of sit there bemused until the rest of us caught up.”
But it was mainly because he was a man with a mission.
A perennial hard-luck guy who turned his misfortunes into opportunities, Mr. Kemp had been battling the odds since he was a budding 12-year-old football player and heard a doctor tell him that the sporadic muscle weakness he had been experiencing was an incurable disease that would kill him before he was 14.
Two years later, when he was defiantly still alive, his doctors said that they had been wrong and that he really had another incurable disease, one that would kill him before he was 20. (It was not until he was 28 that he received the diagnosis that stuck.)
As not only Washington’s leading advocate for the disabled but also a Republican, Mr. Kemp was named to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by President Ronald Reagan in 1987. By the time President Bush made him the chairman three years later, Mr. Kemp had already played a major behind-the-scenes role in writing the American for Disabilities Act, which extended protections to the disabled.
During his tenure, Mr. Kemp, who served until April 1993 and then went into business selling wheelchairs and other medical devices, came under fire from minority rights and women’s rights advocates who accused him of weakening long-standing protections. He defended his positions as reasonable and insisted that his heart was always with the outcasts of society.
His credentials as a champion of the underdog were so well established that no one was especially surprised a few years ago when he took up with Ms. Bertram, a former urban guerrilla who had served four years in prison for robbing a California bank and setting off a bomb before becoming a respected advocate for prison reform.
The Rev. Harold H. Wilke
And this from the Rev. Wilke’s 2003 obituary in the Los Angeles Times:
The Rev. Harold H. Wilke, an armless United Church of Christ minister whose early advocacy for people with disabilities helped set the stage for a movement that ultimately won basic protections for them in areas ranging from employment to transportation, has died. He was 88.
A resident of Claremont, Wilke died of heart failure Tuesday at Pomona Valley Hospital after a period of declining health.
Wilke was an author, a social activist arrested in civil rights marches in the 1960s, and one of the first Americans with a severe disability to serve as a parish minister, according to the 1997 book “Disability Rights Movement” by Fred Pelka.
His work in disabled rights focused in recent years on making churches, temples and mosques accessible to the handicapped.
“He was recognized by disabled people across the country as a leader and innovator — one of the first of the people to believe in disability rights as a movement,” said Hugh Gallagher, a Capitol Hill staff member in the 1960s who drafted the first legislation on architectural access for the handicapped.
“We’d all been disabled for years, but in a medical context: We were sick people who never got well. The disability rights model,” Gallagher said, “is that we are oppressed people who were denied our civil rights. Harold was instrumental in developing this concept, which is the key to the whole disability rights movement.”
Wilke’s role was recognized with his participation in the White House ceremony for the signing of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, which prohibited discrimination against the disabled in employment, public accommodations, transportation and telecommunications.
He delivered the invocation, believed to be the first for a bill signing, in which he spoke of “the breaking of the chains which have held back millions of Americans with disabilities.”
Later, as President George H.W. Bush handed out the ceremonial pens, Wilke deftly removed a loafer and stuck out his foot to receive one, which he slipped into his shoe. Later, while seated next to First Lady Barbara Bush, he deposited it in his pocket with his toes. He was greeted with a roar of approval from the assembled guests.