July 21, 2003
Americans with Disabilities Act: Strengthening Iowa’s CommunitiesOn Saturday, July 26, we marked the 13th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This landmark law was the first comprehensive civil rights law for people with disabilities.
As author of the ADA, its enactment was one of my proudest achievements as an elected official. My family and I had first-hand experience with disability discrimination. My brother Frank was born profoundly deaf. He was sent across the state to attend a residential school for the deaf. In those days, they were called “schools for the deaf and dumb” and I remember Frank telling me: “Tom, I may be deaf, but I am not dumb.” They told my brother that he had only three options: He could be a baker, cobbler, or printer’s assistant. The ADA has changed the employment opportunities for people like my brother—they are now doctors, lawyers, educators, and entrepreneurs.
For thirteen years the ADA has removed barriers, and changed lives. The ADA protects people with disabilities, and creates equal opportunity and access to employment, education, public and governmental services, transportation, places of public accommodation, and telecommunications. All around Iowa the impact of the ADA is obvious. Communities are more accessible, and minds are more open.
All of us benefit from the changes the ADA has brought to Iowa, and those changes have been successful because of state-wide and community initiatives to ensure accessibility and inclusion. The University of Iowa Center for Disabilities and Development (CDD) sponsored a gathering of 60 Iowa communities to brainstorm and learn about accessibility, awareness, and attitudes relating to persons with disabilities. This project, funded by the Governor’s Developmental Disabilities Council (DD Council), financed many community projects which increased full inclusion of persons with disabilities in their community. Statewide programs like the CDD and the DD Council are sowing the seeds of change.
In Latimer, a town with 400 citizens, they developed a committee to explore the city’s accessibility issues. The committee obtained funding to install a lift at the local community center. It also offers $250 mini-grants to businesses that want to increase accessibility. This community-based initiative, coupled with the tax help from the federal government for increased accessibility, creates a win-win situation for the folks and businesses in Latimer.
An ADA task force in Spencer has worked tirelessly to promote awareness and access. As a result of their efforts, the Clay County Fairground is now accessible to individuals with disabilities, the municipal golf course has been renovated for improved access, and community awareness initiatives are underway.
The Americans with Disabilities Act has opened the doors for people with disabilities and given new opportunities for employment, education and civic participation. On this anniversary, we should reflect on all the progress that has been made and redouble our efforts to ensure that all members of our community are included and any barriers to their participation are lifted.