30 Years Later, Disabled Americans Are Still Fighting For Their Civil Rights

Source: Wendy Lu, HuffPost.com

They were ready to do anything.

It was March 1990, and a bill that could potentially end discrimination against people with disabilities was winding its way through Congress. Many disability activists feared that if they didn’t do something drastic, the legislation could get squashed, especially since it was opposed by pro-business groups.

And so in the middle of the day, amid rallies and speeches calling for accessibility and equal rights, hundreds of disabled people left behind their wheelchairs, canes, crutches and other mobility aids and began to crawl up the steps of the U.S. Capitol, demanding that lawmakers pass the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Disability activist Anita Cameron was among them.

“I actually started out dragging my friend’s wheelchair up the stairs. I will never forget — it was such a hot day,” Cameron, who has multiple sclerosis, low vision and autism, among other disabilities, told HuffPost. “I got so tired, and so I handed his chair off to others, and I sat down and then fought my way back up the rest of the stairs.”

Then 24, Cameron wasn’t new to protesting. She was a member of the American Disabled for Accessible Public Transit (now called the American Disabled for Attendant Programs Today, or ADAPT), a national grassroots organization that works to advance disability rights. She had already marched in several demonstrations calling for public accommodations and gone to hearings where disabled activists spoke about why a civil rights law was needed.

But this wasn’t like other protests.

“Something told me this was going to be something different,” said Cameron, now 55. “I felt kind of like we were crawling our way into history.”

Some protesters physically carried each other up, while others inched forward on their hands and knees, fueled by people cheering at the top, according to oral history compiled by the magazine New Mobility.

The day became known as the Capitol Crawl, a symbolic demonstration of the barriers that people with disabilities had faced for decades and one of the most well-known events in modern disability history.

But they weren’t done. A couple of days later, Cameron and dozens of other disability activists swarmed the Capitol Rotunda.

“We took it over, blocked off the doors, and we began chanting so loud that our chants reverberated throughout the building: ‘ADA now! ADA today!’” Cameron said.

A few lawmakers came to try to persuade the protesters to leave, but that only inspired them to chant louder. Eventually, “hordes” of police officers came in to seize them, Cameron said. That day, 104 people were arrested. Cameron was No. 81.

Cameron, still a member of ADAPT, believes that “the takeover” of the Capitol Rotunda was even more effective than the Capitol Crawl in helping to pass the Americans With Disabilities Act, which President George H.W. Bush signed in July 1990.

“I wouldn’t change it. I’d do it again over and over,” she said.

Since then, the Americans With Disabilities Act has transformed the lives of disabled people everywhere. But three decades later, many disability rights activists, including Cameron, say problems of inaccessibility and the stigma against disabled people persist.

Read the full article by visiting https://www.huffpost.com/entry/disabled-americans-fighting-civil-rights_n_5f107c74c5b6cec246bfd8db

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