Tour Tells Story of Disabilities Rights Movement, Seeks Restoration of ADA

By Chris Casey, Greeley Tribune Newspaper

June 11, 2007

(Greeley, Colorado) Vicki Baker, who was left a paraplegic after a car crash five years ago, couldn’t imagine life without the services that were spurred by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The 54-year-old Greeley woman frequently rides city buses outfitted with wheelchair lifts to get around town. The buses help Baker, who has a college degree in sociology and social work, get to appointments as she looks for a job.

“It’s very helpful. It gives us a chance to voice our opinion in what we need,” Baker said of the law. “Without the ADA, we’d be sitting in nursing homes and institutions — all of us — when we do have things to offer the community.”

Baker joined about 60 other people, many with disabilities, at a stop of the Road to Freedom tour in Greeley on Monday morning. The cross-country bus tour was organized by Maryland resident Jim Ward and his family to bring awareness to the ADA and the barriers and discrimination still faced by people with disabilities. 

Ward and his family are midway through the yearlong tour, which started last November in Washington, D.C. Denver and Greeley were the two Colorado stops, and speakers included Greeley Mayor Tom Selders and Gilcrest Mayor Menda Warne.

“The most rewarding thing has been meeting people and hearing their stories and the acknowledgment that people need this law and want it to be as strong as possible,” Ward said.

Legislation to restore and clarify definitions within the act, passed in 1990, was introduced on the last day of the 2006 Congressional session, he said. The effort now is to get the legislation reintroduced in the current session.

Another reason for the bus tour is to put the emphasis back on discrimination rather than benefits associated with the law, Ward said.

Ward experienced discrimination after a mental illness caused him to lose his job, his position as a city councilor in Vermont and his marriage.

“Worse than the effects of the disability were the effects of discrimination,” he said. After his breakdown, some care workers told him he should probably not start a family.

“So in many ways, this journey is a celebration of the family I wasn’t supposed to have,” Ward said.

He said 95 percent of ADA employment-related cases brought to the courts get thrown out on technicalities before evidence is heard. Also, Americans with disabilities struggle with unemployment and remain twice as likely to live in poverty.

“We haven’t fulfilled that promise,” Ward said of national efforts to solve the poverty problem.

The stories the bus tour gathers from people nationwide strengthen the case that the ADA is mostly about promoting social justice and civil rights, he said. “We’re not asking for sympathy or charity.”

The bus tour gathered signatures on a petition that asks for restoration of the ADA. A tour photographer is chronicling the stories of people such as Baker.

“We’ll bring it back to Washington (D.C.) to show it isn’t about lawyers or politics,” Ward said. “This is about real people.”

What’s next

The Road to Freedom tour next travels to Cheyenne, where it will be Thursday through Saturday. In addition to collecting signatures for restoration of the 16-year-old act, the tour includes information that tells visitors the story of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the history of the disabilities rights movement.