I have never known life without the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which became law on July 26, 1990. My birthday is just one year and three days after this. In countless ways, the ADA has been a blessing. Places that my mom and my uncle (who are also disabled) could not have gone while growing up and things that were not accessible to them are open to me. Public attitudes towards disability have shifted significantly from prejudice to acceptance. Opportunities for the disability community continue to expand every day. It’s a beautiful thing to be alive with the ADA as a fixture of United States law, and I couldn’t be happier to ring in the 24th anniversary with optimism for the future.
The optimism I hold is crucial for advocates as we move towards the quarter-century mark of the ADA, because we must be hopeful that changes will continue to come. Far too many people believe that the work for disability equality is done, but we’re still just getting started. The ADA has been a source of immense change, but there is so much more to do. I am reminded of this every time I cannot get into a public place, even though it was supposed to become ADA compliant years ago. I am reminded of this every time I am subjected to stigmatization and exclusion. And I reminded of this every time I hear stories of discrimination and access barriers across the country, and know that I am not alone in the struggle.
So, in honor of the 24th anniversary of the ADA, I’d like to share a poem I wrote last year for my Disability and Social Justice class, entitled “Curbing the Heroes.” I hope it captures the complexities of having a disability in America – a lamentation of the access still needed, a celebration of independence, and a rallying call for advocates to never give up our fight.
Curbing the Heroes by Emily Ladau
I feel your eyes on me.
Maybe an indifferent glance.
Let it roll off your shoulders.
That’s what I’m told.
And so I roll.
Bump. Screech. Crash.
I tried to roll forward.
I hit the curb.
The step is too high
to make it up
and over the barrier
of your discrimination.
The kind stranger armed with working limbs
swoops in to do his good deed.
Lifts me up, shoots down my pride.
I don’t want some everyday hero
coming to my rescue.
I want to be my own hero.
And so I fight. Fight to get over that curb.
Fight to get over discrimination not in leaps and bounds,
but in turns of the wheel –
Each unencumbered turn a small victory
On the inaccessible battlefields
that we will flatten and widen
and make ADA compliant
‘til we don’t need you and your two “working” legs
to save the day.