Thursday, July 22, 2010

Happy Birthday ADA!

A generation has passed since Rene David Luna, 54, chained his wheelchair in front of a CTA bus and swung a sledgehammer to make a point about the city's sidewalks.

Since then, he said, the world has changed in ways that younger people cannot imagine.

"People assume the buses all arrived with lifts on them," Luna said. "They don't know we had to fight for them."

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Two decades ago, activists combined their struggle to navigate ordinary obstacles with the extraordinary effort of convincing the country that the rights of the disabled were as fundamental as the rights of other minorities.

This month marks the 20th anniversary of that effort's culmination in the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990.

The law established broad civil rights for people with disabilities and promoted their full participation in and access to services and activities, paving the way for the next generation of disabled Americans to expect access as a basic right.

Joe Russo, a 45-year-old attorney who is deputy commissioner of compliance in Mayor Richard Daley's Office for People With Disabilities, said it is a mark of the law's achievement.

"I'm glad," he said. "I want them to take it for granted."

Things were different when Russo, who has used a wheelchair most of his life as a result of a degenerative disease, was attending law school at New York University in the late 1980s. The campus, he said, had virtually no accommodations, forcing him to use backdoor delivery entrances.


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