WSW: 25 Years of the Americans With Disabilities Act
In 1945 the Battle Creek City Commission voted to spend money to pay for installing curb cuts. That allowed veterans recovering at the Army Hospital in Battle Creek to move their wheelchairs through the city’s downtown.
Kalamazoo soon followed thanks to the work of a World War II veteran and disability rights advocate. It’s believed that Battle Creek and Kalamazoo were the first two communities in the nation to install curb cuts.
As the Americans with Disabilities Act Turns 25 years old this month, the CEO of the Disability Network of Southwest Michigan Joel Cooper and the network’s Disability Rights Advocate and ADA Coordinator Paul Ecklund joined WMUK’s Gordon Evans to discuss the disability rights movement.
The Disability Network of Southwest Michigan is now in its 34th year. Cooper says it was part of the movement to create centers for independent living across the country. Cooper says at least 51% of the organization’s staff and board of directors are people with disabilities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law on July 26, 1990 by President George H.W. Bush. Cooper calls it a statement of inclusiveness. He says the Disability Network works primarily in public education and awareness about the law and accommodations for people with disabilities.
Ecklund says the ADA has made day to day life better for people with disabilities. He says that includes closed captioning for television and relay systems for telephones. Barriers that used to keep someone with a wheelchair out of a public building have gradually been removed. Ecklund says it’s also no longer legal to deny employment to someone simply because they have a disability.
Cooper says the Americans with Disabilities Act combined with other changes in the law and programs offered by organizations like his have helped people live more independently. Ecklund says one example is that the ADA required all busses to be wheelchair accessible. He says before that many disabled people were unable to leave their homes without great effort.
On Friday July 24th the Disability Network of Kalamazoo will hold a celebration to mark the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.