With the health care situation in flux and Medicaid cuts looming, it seemed like a good year to do something public to celebrate the ADA while we still have it.  I approached some disability advocates in the community, the Center for Independent Living and a local health care advocacy group and they agreed.  My vision was for a public event where we handed out lemonade and chips, had booths with info about the Center for Independent living and the Aging and Disability Resource Center and displayed signs about “Don’t Cap or Cut Medicaid” and “ADA Matters”.

To make this happen in ten days, each of us took on several tasks.  I sought permissions from the police and the health department, made media contacts, recruited folks from the blind and Deaf communities and wrote a pep talk. One big learning from all of this was that things are more complex than you’d ever think. For example, I didn’t ask the Parks and Recreation Department if we could use the grassy plot near the farmers’ market. I blithely assumed it was public land and the police said that was okay if you don’t block motorists’ vision or sidewalks.  Or when it came to deciding to have the event or cancel because of likelihood of thunderstorms, I hadn’t even thought about power wheelchairs not liking to be out in thunderstorms.

Another learning for me is that compromising is good and leads to a better event in the long run. One gal wanted to bring a bubble machine. Bubbles don’t do much for blind people, so I scoffed a bit and figured out I could bring bells for blind folks to balance the bubbles. It turned out the bubbles attracted kids, which attracted their parents and great fun was had with both bubbles and bells.

Even though we weren’t allowed to hand out anything because we ended up escaping from the rain under the roof of the farmers’ market, the event was great. Lots of people with and without disabilities helped and many in-depth conversations about disability issues were held. Even the local newspaper story was respectful and got the facts right. Here’s my speech that somehow seemed to fit the tone of the event:

 

Happy Americans with Disabilities Act Day! Thanks for showing up to help our community celebrate the ADA and the Medicaid program.  Medicaid helps low income Americans of all ages get the services they need to live out the promise of the ADA for access.  My hopes for this event are that people learn about each other’s worlds. But that will take the bravery of asking other people how the ADA or Medicaid made their lives better and the bravery to tell pieces of your story to strangers not just throw out political sound bites.

The disability community has been the last group to achieve our civil rights with laws like the ADA in 1990 and the Help America Vote Act in 2002.

The disability community has some values I’d like to highlight today: resilience and a balance of independence and interdependence.  We feel the fear but do it anyway as we encounter attitudinal, architectural and communication barriers. We are problem-solvers and hard workers, just to get ready to get out the door sometimes. We’ve learned the truth of the Hopi Katchina Tehabi story “You see for me, I’ll walk for you”.  We’ve learned to ask for what we need and to give what we can. For example today I’ve asked Jeff to walk around with me being my eyes about who’s out there so I can greet them. I hope to learn some things about organizing from him too.  But I’ll also be educating him about the world of people with disabilities. So it’s a two-way street with the helping today. Both “please help” and “may I help?” are useful phrases for everybody.

As able, find a partner you don’t know and do the work of holding signs, conversing with people, handing out information or passing out snacks. Mix and mingle. Learn and grow and by all means have fun! Happy ADA Day!