(Milwaukee, Wisconsin) With more than 200 attendees braving the weather, Milwaukee’s Road to Freedom event was coordinated by IndependenceFirst, one of the tour’s biggest sponsors. Being the “City of Festivals,” IndependenceFirst staff wanted to plan an event with music and entertainment that was inclusive of performers with disabilities. Alie Kriofske Mainella, Youth Leadership Specialist and Carol Voss, Public Relations and Marketing Manager headed up the planning committee with the help of Executive Director Lee Schulz, Associate Director Karen Avery and staff members Diana Sullivan and Patti Stengel. Despite a sky threatening rain and unseasonably cool weather, the Road to Freedom event was held at the Peck Pavilion, an outdoor stage venue outside the Marcus Center for Performing Arts in the heart of downtown Milwaukee. (Thanks to the Marcus Center for donating the space for the day’s activities!)

Alie, our emcee, first introduced local singer/songwriter Patti Westphal who kicked off the show with her musical set. Denise Johnson, AODA Coordinator at IndependenceFirst then performed the National Anthem in sign song leading into our formal program. Local dignitaries then welcomed the Road to Freedom and highlighted their commitments to preserving the spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The local dignitaries included President of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts Paul Matthews, downtown area Alderman Robert Bauman, Sarah Spence–a representative from Congresswoman Gwen Moore‘s office and finally Milwaukee Department of City Development Commissioner Rocky Marcoux who made remarks on behalf of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and his entire department who have partnered with IndependenceFirst regularly to improve access in public housing and throughout the city of Milwaukee.

Commissioner Marcoux gave an especially stirring speech and highlighted the impact of “activist judges” who have narrowed the ADA and other civil rights protections while defying the will of Congress and the American people. He was followed by ADA Watch‘s Jim Ward who thanked the City, IndependenceFirst and everyone who supported and turned out for this great event. His remarks outlined the goals of the tour, the need for passage of the ADA Restoration Act and the nomination of judges who will fairly interpret the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Ward introduced his fellow bus tour crew: Tom Olin, who was photographing the event and whose images are central to the traveling exhibit which was set up at the event; Debbie Fletter-Ward, founder of Wired On Wheels and the former director of accessibility at AOL; and the boys, Zach Ward, age 3 and Jake Ward, age 2.

In honor of the upcoming anniversary, the crowd sang Happy Birthday for the ADA and enjoyed cake. Local singer Patricia Sobczyk had a musical set which was followed by an incredible performance by the Children of the Sun-the nation’s only deaf and hard of hearing youth drum troupe-and finally young and old were impressed by the illusions of Magic Matt Morgan, a performer who is also deaf.

Despite the threatening weather and negative weather predictions, the rain held out and nearly 200 people with disabilities and other supporters attended. It was a fantastic event!