Disability Rights Bus Travels Across Nation

By Cat Rooney and Chiaki Gonda

Epoch Times Kansas City Staff

Feb 12, 2007

HOME FREE: “The Road to Freedom” bus will travel to 80 cities in its year-long tour to raise awareness of ADA.

Advocates for Americans with disabilities plan to visit 80 cities this year. “The Road to Freedom” bus tour, which has already traveled an estimated 3,500 miles to 16 cities, is promoting awareness of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Jim Ward, ADA Watch and National Coalition of Disability Rights President, is leading the tour with his wife, Debbie, their two children, and photographer Tom Olin. The tour will end in Washington, D.C. on November 15.

“Everyone in the disability movement, young to old, likes to know the history,” said Olin, a photographic historian whose pictures will be persevered at the Smithsonian Institution. “They like to figure out where we come from and where we are going. Most people have a family member that is disabled and can actually relate to all this.”

Olin’s photographs are shown on the exterior of “The Road to Freedom” bus, on display panels for public viewing.

His pictures seek to capture the essence and struggles of the disabilities movement. They include a young man using a cane in a protest march with a sign, “Separate is not Equal” and a woman in an electric wheelchair at a rally with a poster stating, “Break the Chains of Discrimination.”

Marcie Goldstein, who uses a motorized wheelchair, saw “The Road to Freedom” display in New Orleans. “It makes me think we are still advocating for the same things,” said Goldstein. “We’ve made progress, but not enough.” For Goldstein, even with an advanced degree, she still has difficulties with career advancement. She thinks it is due to attitudes of employers about hiring persons with disabilities.

This attitude may be what Olin observed while taking pictures at events side by side with local press. “The difference [in the same picture taken by two photographers] is so obvious,” said Olin, “Mine come from knowing a person is powerful.” Olin thinks the other photographers were only seeing the disability or the wheelchair, and not the person. “I try to put power back into the person.”

The bus tour was inspired by Justin and Yoshiko Dart’s historical trips across America fighting for the passage of ADA. Justin’s wife talks about her late husband’s vision for equality for persons with disabilities. Justin, who used a wheelchair, and his wife traveled to all 50 states by car three separate times in the 1980’s. They did so to get local input into the drafting of the ADA, and to gather support to get it passed.

“We collected 5,000 discrimination diaries from all over the county,” said Yoshiko. “We took them in boxes to Congress and Justin pulled out the most striking discrimination stories to share.” Stories were shared such as young Lisa Carl’s, who was denied entry into her local movie theatre because of her wheelchair.

The civil rights movement for persons with disabilities looks much like the 1960’s civil rights movement for minorities. People with disabilities have held sit-ins at federal buildings, blocked inaccessible buses from traveling, marched in the streets to protest injustice, and sought redress in the courts and protection through legislation.

“Drawing on people power, persons with disabilities then took the lead in every state by lobbing their legislators for the passage of ADA,” said Yoshiko Dart. Every congressional building had a person in a wheelchair or walking with a cane or service dog to talk to their representatives in the summer of 1990. With this type of evidence, personal presence, and belief, the ADA was signed into law on July 26, 1990. The Darts were amazed that the Act was passed in just two years after their last road trip, versus the 10 they thought it would take.

Yoshiko has hope for the future due to the young with disabilities. She finds the youth of today as confident, viewing inaccessible obstacles as inconveniences, and wanting to move on and fit into mainstream America, in different occupational fields. “Tremendous progress has been made since ADA,” said Yoshiko. “But, there is a lot of work still.”

The ADA aims to help people with disabilities to return to living within their community, not within institutions. It also prohibits employment discrimination based on disability, and requires accessible public transportation and accommodation, to allow for participation in daily activities. This translates to such things as curb cuts and ramps, so wheelchair users can to get into classrooms for an education, stores to buy groceries and clothes, and to seek housing and be employed. According to the 2000 Census, 45 million Americans are estimated to either be disabled due to functional limitations that interfere with walking, lifting, healing or learning—such as arthritis and heart disease—or have a physical, sensory, or mental condition.