This is the first BLOG that I am writing where I have actually been in tears doing the research… out of all of the civil rights’ movements of the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s….this is the most provocative and touching…
Dating back to the early 19th century, disabled Americans were treated as second-class citizens and encouraged as second-class citizens by the American Eugenics Movement….which was embraced by politicians, universities, the wealthy, etc. Were you ready to ‘condemn’ your disabled child, sibling, parent, neighbor….we actually had a movement in this country back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s (through 1930’s) that encouraged ‘preserving’ and ‘improving’ the dominant groups in the population….this, of course, was prior to Hitler and the Nazi Eugenics movement, where, believe it or not…Hitler got the ‘idea’ for cultivating a supreme race from the American Eugenics Movement, particularly from the movement in California….sad, sad, sad.
The disability rights movement had to not only overcome prejudice, but also physical barriers that limit access to employment and inclusion in other aspects of daily life. Activists successfully lobbied for laws that required curb-cuts, ramps and buses with wheelchair lifts. This in turn increased the possibility of economic and social mobility. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, a growing population of consumers with mobility impairments demanded wheelchairs and scooters to match their activity. At the same time, barrier-free designs have brought a new aesthetic to public spaces.
Signed into law in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is one of the most significant civil rights documents of the 20th century. Its purpose was/is to end discrimination, reduce barriers to employment and ensure access to education for those with disabilities. The ADA has been in practice (it was signed into law in 1990 but Americans were given two (2) years to comply with the ADA) since 1992…over 22 years…it has increased the visibility of people with disabilities. It also has led to the reshaping of the physical environment and improved communication access.
“ADA is a landmark commandment of fundamental human morality. It prepares the way for the emancipation of more than half of a billion of the world’s most oppressed people.” Justin Dart, Jr., Godfather of ADA – Fall 1990
Justin Whitlock Dart, Jr., a Walgreen’s heir and polio survivor, is considered the Godfather of the ADA. He contracted polio in 1948 before entering the University of Houston, where he earned undergraduate degrees in history and education in 1954; however, the University refused to give him a teaching certificate because of his disability. The University is now home to the Justin Dart, Jr. Center for Students with Disabilities, a facility designed for students who have any type of temporary or permanent health impairment, physical limitation, psychiatric disorder, or learning disability.
Just to reinforce how community oriented Justin Dart, Jr. was…during his time at the University of Houston, which was then segregated, he organized the very first student group to oppose racism. After graduation, Dart founded three (3) Japanese corporations (both of his respective wives were of Japanese descent), but in 1967 he decided to devote himself to the rights of people with disabilities, working in Texas and Washington, DC, as a member of various state and federal disability commissions.
He had opposed President Reagan’s (a personal friend of the Dart family) effort to revise the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, but in 1981 accepted an appointment for President Reagan to be the vice-chair of the National Council on Disability. In this position, Justin Dart, Jr. took two (2) trips across the country visiting every state including Puerto Rico, Guam and the District of Columbia talking to individuals with disabilities. These trips are what gave him the title ‘Godfather of the ADA’. He held public forums with as many as 30,000 people attempting to garner favor for a national act for the disabled.
The beautiful success for Justin Dart, Jr. is that when President George H.W. Bush, in 1990, signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law, he shared the podium with Justin Dart, Jr.
Mr. Dart died in 2002 from congestive heart failure as a complication to his polio; he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998 by President Bill Clinton…..What a Legacy!!!
Please read my next BLOG on the actual ADA and how to comply with the requirements of the ADA as a business owner and what protection to expect from the ADA as an employee. In the meantime, if you have any questions or need further information, please contact Rosanne Bennett at 484-798-1236 or firstname.lastname@example.org