ADA Legacy Project Now Off and Running
By Janine Bertram Kemp
When Roland Sykes, DIMENET Internet guru and organizer par
excellence, passed away in March 2008, his sister threw out all his papers and
sold The Big White Cloud, the accessible bus that was his home
The late Evan Kemp -- who introduced President George H.W.
Bush at the signing of the ADA, succeeded Deborah Kaplan at the Disability
Rights Center and was the first person with a disability to chair the EEOC --
had his papers thrown into a trash bin on the street
The newly created ADA Legacy Project hopes to prevent
scenes like those from occurring again. The projects goal is to ensure
that the tangible history of the disability rights movement is collected and
From Aug. 2nd to Aug. 4th, a diverse group of people with
disabilities gathered at Shepherd Center in Atlanta to plan the twenty-fifth
anniversary of the ADA, which was enacted in 1990. The mission evolved into the
ADA Legacy Project.
The meeting was hosted by Shepherd Center, a private,
not-for profit hospital, and sponsored by the Amerigroup Foundation, a managed
care company. It was attended by 22 people; 25 more were involved in planning
calls. Carol Jones and Mark Johnson convened the meeting, and Kristen Vincent
I was impressed by how we as a community set the
tone of our first association with the NCCHR, Tom Olin, social
documentarian, said of a meeting with officials of the National Center for
Civil and Human Rights, scheduled to open in May 2014 in Atlanta.
Everyone was able to work in concert to show the complexity of the
disability rights movement to these people from the center.
The CEO (Doug Shipman) came in with his mind made
up: no permanent disability exhibit. He changed his view as he realized the
importance of what we were saying as a group. It was to his credit as an
individual that he had the strength to change. The mechanics of our disability
process comprised history, culture and inclusion in a way that the rest of our
community would be proud of.
Eleanor Smith, executive director of Concrete Change, said
she would rather have two square feet of a permanent disability rights exhibit
than 400 square feet of an annual or now and then exhibit. Dan
Wilkins, communications director of the Ability Center of Toledo, Ohio,
recalled his experience at the ADAs 10th anniversary celebration at the
Smithsonian National Museum of American History. He had viewed the disability
history exhibit positioned next to the famous Woolworths lunch counter
from the civil rights movement and, when he returned, noticed that the
disability exhibit was gone. Then he remembered that the Smithsonian had
labeled it a temporary display.
It was a joy to see us working in concert,
Smith said. In the end, the CEO suggested a permanent exhibit with
changing content, and we all assented to that. At the suggestion of
Laurie Block, executive director of the Disability History Museum, a committee
of Georgia-based advocates was formed to provide content to the NCCHR.
I see the ADA Legacy Project as a way for many, many
more people, both disabled and non-disabled, who dont even know that
there is a disability rights movement, to realize there is a disability rights
movement that is equal in importance to the other extremely impactful movements
that started in the 1950s, Smith said. The black civil rights
movement, the second wave of the womens movement, and also the very vivid
gay and lesbian movement, were enormous, and they are well known. I see the ADA
Legacy Project as a way to make people realize there is an unrecognized
movement that is as deep as the other movements for social justice.
Our historical content is a delicate thing because,
unlike other groups of oppressed people, pity is forced upon us. We tend not to
tell humiliating personal experiences because we do not want pity. But we must
find a way to tell our stories and tell them from a powerful place. And if we
cannot tell them from a powerful place, tell them anyway because this movement
has a power vanguard, and they have our backs.
Kelly Buckland, executive director of the National Council
on Independent Living, played an active role at the meeting. I think the
importance of the meeting at Shepherd was kicking it off in the way that we
did, he said. We are now talking about the ADA Legacy Project. This
is different because it is an ongoing project to celebrate the ADA and our
disability rights movement history. This includes all the people and activities
that led to the passage of the ADA and built our disability rights movement.
This project is being as inclusive as possible because it must encompass the
Smith sees the battle for disability rights being told in
three strands, or braids, for which templates could be developed and sent to
centers for independent living. The first braid would be about pre-ADA
discrimination that would include, for example, stories about education,
transit and institutionalization before those involved had any rights at all. A
story about a person who missed the wedding of his sister or the christening of
her niece because of a paratransit ride that never came would fall into this
A second braid would be people who benefited from the
enactment of the ADA and recognized moments when things were different, such as
their first ride on a lift-equipped bus or the first time they used a curb cut.
The third braid would speak to how some rights have not yet been achieved, and
how some people are still locked away in institutions against their will;
cannot find accessible, affordable, integrated housing; and remain
Go for the gut, Smith urged. Do not be
afraid to tell how happy you were on the second braid, and how you felt intense
pain and exclusion in strand one. Show that gut-level pain, anger and fear.
People in institutions still cannot speak their minds without fear of serious
Johnson urged people to be patient with the process.
You can be doing great work by yourselves, but by coming together, the
25th anniversary and the ADA Legacy Project results will be far
To join the ADA Legacy Project, go to http://www.facebook.
Janine Bertram Kemp is a writer, advocate and president
of the Disability Rights Center. A former communications director for AAPD, she
left Washington, D.C., to take refuge in the forests of Zig Zag, Oregon. She
also is a member of ADAPT.