ADA the Early Years

The ADA turns 30 this year, but once it was just a gleam in advocates’ eyes. That vision produced a beautiful, ambitious baby, full of promise and hope, and from the beginning New Mobility reported on the milestones reached by this landmark civil rights law. Now, we crack open the time capsule.



On March 12 [1990], we gathered in front of the White House at noon. Over 1,000 strong, most in wheelchairs but including people who are deaf or blind, we marched down Pennsylvania Avenue, the 17 blocks to the U.S. Capitol. We carried signs and chanted “ADA Now!” Mike Auberger, from ADAPT, closed with a stirring speech. “We are Americans,” he said, “and we want the same rights as everyone else.” After the speeches, many abandoned their wheelchairs and climbed the 83 steps on the west front of the Capitol, as a symbolic gesture dramatizing the barriers that the disabled still face. … It’s too early to tell whether our goals have been reached, but there was a feeling of solidarity, and of a successful crusade on behalf of equal rights for disabled people in employment, transportation, housing, places of public accommodation — every aspect of American life. That, indeed, is the purpose of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
— Richard Treanor, Spring 1990 issue


When the ADA was passed, there was this euphoric feeling that we had reached the mountain peak and that it was all downhill from there. But it is only another step in a progression of steps that has been ongoing since the ‘50s. You go back in the early ‘80s, and what we were looking at was curb cuts. Nobody had gotten around yet to this idea of rights and full access to the community. … There’s been plenty of phase-in time to get the word out about this bill — that’s one of its strengths. But it’s still going to take my going to the barber shop and seeing that I can’t get a haircut and talking to the barber about it before things will start turning around. It’s going to be a long, slow battle, but it’s a good struggle, and we’ve got the right tools.
— Speed Davis, Winter 1992 issue



We have ADA now. We can talk about careers, not just jobs. We’re not objects of charity, we’re people with rights. Our status is changing. Our mental attitudes have to change, too. We’re still begging, aren’t we? Still got that old attitude. Thinking it’s a privilege to work and earn our own livings. … There are lots of ways to resist. It has to come from inside us, doesn’t it? It has to come from our belief that we have a right to be in the society, the community. That we have a right to be there and do what we want to do. If the community’s not ready for us, they’d better stand back. We’re coming. We’re already here. We’ve already made some changes and we’re going to raise more and more hell until the real change has come.
— Ed Roberts, May-June 1994 issue

1995: Happy Birthday, ADA
What NM Readers Said Five Years After Passage

ADA: The Early Years “It hasn’t made a difference in my life yet, but it’s given me hope. Maybe we’ll end up with just a couple more curb cuts on Main Street and a couple more ramps to public buildings and nothing else. But you’ve got to give it a good-faith effort. You’ve got to work with them.”
—Larry Quintana, C4-6, retired urban planner

“The ADA has done a couple of things for me. It has enriched my life because it is an affirmation of our identity as a community. It has let me dream that the disabled will be included as equal partners who can speak for ourselves, us saying what we need. It’s also frustrated my life because we’ve got so far to go to make the dream a reality.”
— Anthony Tussler, L1-2, disability services director

“Structurally, the ADA has changed things for the better, but is it going to change attitudes? It’s going to take a while. But I still have my goals and dreams, and I’m going to chase them whether society believes I can or not.”
— David Barron, CMT, business communications graduate

“Legal protection is really important. It’s scary to be at the mercy of people’s good will. I had to be dependent on luck for people to accommodate me before the ADA.”
— Anne Keehnen, T9, special education counselor