By Taylor Woodard and Mike Nagel. July 26, 2015 will mark the 25th anniversary of an important, but too often overlooked, moment in civil rights history: the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Arc’s Paul Marchand public policy interns, Taylor Woodard from Junction, Texas, and Mike Nagel from Wyndmere, North Dakota, both of whom ventured into the nation’s capital determined to change disability policy, had front-row seats to the White House’s official ADA commemoration. Here is a description of that historical occasion though their eyes.
We were in awe as we were escorted through the halls of the epicenter of U.S. government by various members of the Armed Forces. Once at the celebration, we excitedly wandered through elegant corridors and ornate rooms, nibbled hors d’oeuvres, and mingled with disability community leaders and advocates as we waited for the President’s remarks. Photos and videos do not do justice to the elegance of this magnificent building.
After we had soaked in the scenery for a bit, we made our way to the East Room, where the main event was to be held. We were fortunate to snag front-row seats to hear President Obama’s address. From here, we could see so many prominent figures of the disability rights movement: former Senators Tom Harkin and Bob Dole, former Congressman Tony Coelho, as well as Representative Steny Hoyer, House Minority Whip. Finally, the big moment arrived: President Obama, followed by Vice President Joe Biden, stepped up to the podium and began.
With great passion, the President spoke of “tear[ing] down barriers externally, but…also…internally.” He continued, proclaiming “That’s our responsibility as Americans and it’s our responsibility as fellow human beings.” For young advocates like us, the President’s words certainly ring true: attitudes in society can be, and often are, barriers in and of themselves. And we, as well as all advocates, must remember these truths as we strive for a more inclusive tomorrow.
In closing, President Obama poignantly outlined the accomplishments of the past 25 years as well as laid a path for the future. For us, this future would include ending unnecessary restraint and seclusion, assuring a high-quality education for all, creating supports and services for people with I/DD to live and work in the community, and protecting rights to self-determination and quality of life.
As the crowd applauded, a very different cheer erupted several thousand miles away in two of the nation’s tiniest rural communities, as our proud parents watched their son and daughter shake the hand of the President, a moment we will never forget.