By Laura Hershey
Denver activist Kathy Vincent shares a birthday with the ADA. Photo by Debbie Lane. Thanks to the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition. Despite the celebrations that have been planned and publicized for over a year now, the 10th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act still takes me by surprise. It's just hard to believe that it's been a full decade since Congress put our rights on the legal map.
Have we really been living in the ADA age for 10 years? It seems like just yesterday we were sitting in the backs of movie theaters, leaving job interviews rejected and resigned, and waiting three days for a paratransit ride.
One of those things may, in fact, have happened to you just yesterday. Experiences of disability-based discrimination, though illegal, are still quite commonplace.
The difference now is that in our toolbox we have the ADA -- a tool we can use to whittle away at discrimination. But a tool is effective only if it's kept in good shape and wielded by skilled craftspeople. We need to care for the ADA, keeping it clean, sharpened and ready, protecting this delicate and valuable tool from damage. We must keep the ADA out of the hands of people who want to break it because they don't like what we're building with it.
Today I happened to watch a "Jeopardy Teen Tournament." The young contestants were asked to identify "a machine with a tone arm that your parents used to listen to music." After a pause, one young woman pressed her buzzer and hazarded a guess: "Um, what is a record player?"
Suddenly I felt rather old.
But then I developed a little fantasy: Two decades from today, we're celebrating the 30th anniversary of the ADA. Taking a break from the festivities, I turn on the TV to watch "Jeopardy." A contestant chooses "American History for $500." The clue is, "Your parents might remember these obstacles which kept people with disabilities out of buildings, subways and jobs." The competitors look baffled for several seconds, and then one brave soul buzzes in and asks, "What are ... er ... barriers?"
OK, back to reality.
For many of us who are active in Colorado's disability community, July 26 means celebrating two birthdays. Kathy Vincent is a veteran of many of America's battles for disability rights. When she was a child, flights of stairs made it impossible for Kathy to get into her grade school in rural Fort Lupton, and her family had no recourse. They moved to Denver.
When she was 28, Kathy moved into a nursing home. She lived there for 13 years. She finally got out and has lived independently ever since. As a member of ADAPT (American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today), Kathy has fought to give every person with a disability that same right to independence. As a member of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition, she has worked for the rights of people with disabilities in education, state legislation, economic opportunity and just about every other realm.
The ADA was signed into law on Kathy's 50th birthday. "Before the ADA, I had to fight everybody for my rights," Kathy recently told the Rocky Mountain News. "I'm not saying it's perfect now, but it's better. I have a right to get on the bus. I have a right to be in King Soopers or Kmart."
Today Kathy turns 60, and she's still going strong, still helping fulfill a vision of equality and support for all people. I hope we'll be able to say the same about Kathy, and about the ADA, for a long time.
Happy birthday, Kathy. Happy ADA Day, everyone.