Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the ADA and More

The following Guest Post is from Laila Soleimani, a new Outreach Assistant for DCR's Universal Access Program. Just coming into the world of disability rights and adaptive recreation at this historic moment, Laila shares her experience of the ADA Celebration on the Boston Common.

A few of DCR's adaptive bikes in the parade.
             As crowds of people eagerly began to make their way to the corner of Boylston and Tremont Streets for the kick-off march, the 25th anniversary celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act was underway.
 I walked amidst the crowd, passing friends excitedly gathering together and volunteers holding signs ready to assist. There were many different organizations showing their support at this event. The bright, vibrant colors of their t-shirts against gorgeous green grass made the event vivacious and colorful.

An “ADA!, ADA!, ADA!”  chant began to drown out the sounds of the bustling city, as the march began with bystanders curiously looking on. Soon, a young woman holding a megaphone recited “Ho Ho Hey, celebrate the ADA!” followed by another gentleman who cried, “Ho Ho Hey, the ADA is here to stay”. The energy was palpable. The music of Hot Tamale, a New Orleans style marching band, focused a grandiose sweep of commotion. The band made their way to the stage followed by crowds of fans. There wasn’t an empty seat on the Common as everyone gathered for the start of the program.
            Right away, one thing particularly stood out to me. Easter Seals, the well-known disability service organization, had created a colorful paper chain. Each link of their paper chain demonstrated how people were connected to the ADA. This chain, which wrapped around in circles multiple times, made a profound impact on me and others as it helped put into perspective how everyone indeed is tied to the ADA in some aspect - we all have a friend, neighbor, or relative who has been disabled at some time in their lives. Thus, it affects all of us. It was truly beautiful to see how members of Easter Seals made sure to carry this poignant paper chain throughout the entire march.

             The Americans with Disabilities Act, known as the ADA, guarantees equal opportunity and equal access for people living with disabilities in the U.S. This event honored many disability rights activists such as Evan Kemp, Justin Dart, and the “capitol crawlers” who were instrumental in bringing this vital civil rights law to pass.  “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down,” said President Bush as he raised his pen to sign the bill into law on July 26th 1990. This moving celebration recognizes years of unyielding determination and shows how far we have come.

This year also marks the 20th anniversary celebration of the DCR’s Universal Access Program. This program was launched by director Tom McCarthy in response to the ADA and to provide all people, regardless of individual ability, access to outdoor recreational opportunities in Massachusetts State Parks. This unique program within the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation offers adaptive recreation programs year-round and statewide, in addition to working to ensure state parks are accessible.

Tom McCarthy, director of DCR's Universal Access Program
(visible in power wheelchair on right) enjoys the celebration.

DCR’s UAP provides adaptive recreation equipment, professional staff and lifeguards, and individual support as necessary. Adaptive equipment and hands on help break through many physical barriers that would otherwise prevent people with disabilities from enjoying outdoor recreation. Since this program was launched twenty years ago, over 48,000 participants have enjoyed kayaking, hiking, cycling, cross country skiing, ice skating and many other activities.

These advances in adaptive outdoor recreation opportunities are a far cry from a pre-1990 United States. “Individuals with disabilities have come to expect a more accessible and welcoming world than they were exposed to 20 or 30 years ago,” says McCarthy, who uses a power wheelchair as a polio survivor. “Our programs have helped individuals gain a sense of independence and pride as they engage in activities they once deemed impossible.”

While our country has come a long way in the last twenty-five years, and it’s vital to honor this historic moment, there is still much work ahead of us for the next twenty-five years. “When we expand the circle of inclusion, we evolve as people”, said MA Senator Ed Markey in a pre-recorded video message.
This celebration left people (I know it did me!) inspired and energized to continue the ongoing efforts. It concluded with an energetic performance of “Dancing in the Streets” by the Berkshire Hills Music Academy. The ADA’s 25th anniversary celebration was held on July 22nd in Boston, but there were many celebrations that would follow in the days after in New England, Washington D.C., and the rest of the country. I am glad that I got to experience this significant moment in history and witness firsthand the pride and joy the ADA has brought to so many.

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