Click here to view the photo gallery of this bus stop event.

(Sioux Falls, South Dakota) We pulled into the Empire Mall in Sioux Falls and were greeted by the bus stop coordinator, Ryan Green of the state Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) as he was finishing up a TV interview about the event. We were soon joined by Shelly Pfaff of the South Dakota Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities, whose member organizations helped organize and set up resource centers at the event. We were very proud to also be welcomed to Sioux Falls by Mayor Dave Munson.

Read more on the event as reported in the Argus Leader newspaper:

Freedom Tour Teaches Disability Rights

Published: July 6, 2007

Argus Leader Photo of Freedom Bus in Sioux FallsThe wheels on the bus go ’round and ’round all through the town, or for this matter the country, to ensure people with disabilities have their freedoms too.

The Road to Freedom Tour, a yearlong and 50-state bus tour, spent the day at The Empire Mall to advocate and educate the public about the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Everyone is out here is for a common good,” said Jim Ward, founder and president of ADA Watch. “And everyone wants to see the ADA restored to what it once was: a sweeping civil rights law that covers all disabilities, not only visible physical disabilities and access, which in recent years has been the focus in the courts,” he said.

The tour already has seen 27 states, 40 different events and traveled more than 12,000 miles and is only about halfway finished, Ward said.

Camped out under white tents to avoid the afternoon heat, program participants, guests and sponsors share stories, information and firsthand accounts of discrimination to remind Americans that the promises of the ADA have not been kept, Ward said.

Ward, a former elected official and executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party, lost his family, job and almost his life after being diagnosed with a mental illness. Now, he strives to inform people they do not have to live with reduced expectations simply because they are disabled. He lives on one of two buses with wife, Debbie Fletter Ward, and two young sons, and he provides one of many national voices to the tour.

Ryan Green, government relations director for the North Central Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Shelly Pfaff, executive director for the South Dakota Coalition of Citizens with Disabilities, organized the event to take place in a parking lot for a reason.

“Too often are people with disabilities left in parking lots because businesses are not accessible to all people,” Green said.

Pfaff said her dream is to “work herself out of a job” and hopes that it happens in her lifetime.

More than 10 area and statewide organizations came to hand out materials to raise support. Also in attendance was the Junior Sioux Wheelers, a wheelchair basketball team that supplied extra wheelchairs to challenge the public to a different form of basketball. Area artists and the Washington Pavilion provided some fun activities for the occasion.

Mayor Dave Munson told the crowd that he is proud of the achievements made by the city for people with disabilities. He said the city continues to make advancements with projects such as Miracle Field, a handicap-accessible field with rubber matting and bases big enough for wheelchairs.

Miracle Field was privately funded and “will be easy to move around on,” Munson said.

“There has been some progress since the ADA went into effect, but not enough,” Ward said. “Issues such as the poverty and employment rates for the disabled have not improved, and that needs to change.”

The Road to Freedom Tour wants to give everyone a voice.

“We recognize Washington, D.C., is not the center of the universe and want to inspire local people to get involved in the national movement also,” Ward said.

The tour will end Nov. 15 in Washington, where the campaign will present Congress with the petition for the restoration of the ADA and a disabled rights concert, Ward said.

“We want to show that having disabilities is not always a health care or heroic issue, as media often portrays today, but instead that it is a day-to-day life experience,” Ward said.

Reach Jacquelyne Taurianen at 331-2300.