Our Stories: 30 Years of the ADA

Emily Blum
February 28, 2020
“How will you celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the ADA?”

It’s a question we are frequently asked, because indeed, celebrating the Americans with Disabilities Act, the landmark Civil Rights law, is an important moment in our community.

And my response is always: “All year long.”

In fact, we officially started the celebration in January at the Field Museum during Chicago’s first-ever Night of Ideas. Together with my colleague Risa Rifkind and Member Rahnee Patrick we reminisced about growing up with the law, the impact it had on our lives, and the work that’s still needed in order for people with disabilities to fully realize our civil and human rights.

You can read more about our conversation here, and I hope what you take away from the recap is that the three of us had a lot of stories to share about our experience and awareness of the law. We talked for an hour, but the truth is, we could have talked for days.

Ours were a mere three perspectives, yet we know there are millions more experiences and stories, and people with disabilities come from all backgrounds, races, and ethnicities, genders, income levels, family histories. What we discussed may have been representative of the disability community, but we certainly didn’t pretend to represent everyone.

That’s why we are launching a NEW series on our blog: Our Stories: 30 Years of the ADA — and we invite all our readers to share their insights, experiences, and first-hand knowledge of their life over the past 30 years.

Member Christophe typing at a computer during Advancing Leadership event.

I can’t wait to read your stories, but until then, I’ll start with my own. This story is not so much about the law, but really, the first time I met a leader with a disability and the profound impact it had on my life and my own understanding.

During my Junior year in college (a few years after the ADA was passed), I spent a semester in Washington, DC. I participated in a program at American University that matched classroom learning with an internship program.

I landed an internship at Common Cause and for the most part, everything about the work was unremarkable. It was your typical make copies, get coffee, help prep for an upcoming meeting -type work. And honestly, I wouldn’t remember any of it if it weren’t for a Senior Vice President who was also their lead lobbyist. We’ll call her Anna.

Anna was a lobbyist bad-ass AND a person with a visible disability, and quite frankly, my mind was blown. It was, in fact, the first time I had encountered a person with a disability in a professional, non-medical, setting. I saw this woman lead teams and conversations, and I saw her come and go from meetings on Capitol Hill where she led the organization’s efforts to clean up government ethics and to root out special-interest influence.

Anna had a big job, so the truth is we barely spoke and didn’t interact much. Yet at the same time, Anna was a mentor and role-model. To me, she embodied what I wanted to be: a woman with a disability who had power and influence.

I like to think that 20+ years later, Anna would be glad to know where I am. That I’m also a woman with a disability who’s unapologetic, focused, and determined. And like her, I’m doing work that has impact. I’m not alone. Thirty years after the passage of the ADA, the number of people with disabilities in the workforce, commanding attention for our skills and ideas and making change has grown exponentially.

It’s exciting to think about what the next 30 years will bring.

ADA 30