By Frank Strong, Jr.
Associate Director of the Central Iowa Center for Independent Living

After months of planning of the event to celebrate the arrival of the ADA “Road to Freedom” bus tour arrived in Des Moines, Iowa. The “Road to Freedom “ buses had been traveling around the states for the last eight months, both buses arrived in Des Moines, Iowa on Wednesday August 8, 2007.

On the morning of Wednesday, August 8, we spoke with Jim Ward over the telephone about their accommodations and their plans for the next two days while they spent time in central Iowa. The Road To Freedom tour actually consists of a convoy of vehicles including two buses, a Jeep, a travel trailer and a storage trailer. The Freedom Riders include Jim Ward, president of ADA Watch/National Coalition for Disability Rights, documentary photographer Tom Olin, former AOL director of accessibility Debbie Fletter Ward, video camera operator Amanda Meisner and the Ward’s children, Zach, age 3 and Jake, age 2. Tom captures photos of the events while the program includes dignitaries, policymakers, disability rights leaders, as well as Jim’s overview of the bus tour and call to pass the ADA Restoration Act of 2007.

The convoy and crew were camped out at Timber Line camp out by Waukee, Iowa about 20 miles west of the Central Iowa Center for Independent Living . The center is located in downtown Des Moines and is the location for both events scheduled in Des Moines.

After making arrangements with Jim Ward, the team brought the bus which is wrapped with the American Flag and Tom Olin’s photos to downtown Des Moines. My employer, Bob Jeppesen and I met the bus when it arrived in downtown Des Moines. We greeted the bus and met the road crew.

For the first part of our activities, we had scheduled a place in the Iowa State Fair Parade for the bus tour. To get to the staging area for the fair parade, we had to travel about three miles east of the Central Iowa Center for Independent Living office. Bob Jeppesen and I traveled in the bus with the Road to Freedom crew. When we arrived near the staging area we met with several youths with disabilities. The youth with disabilities are graduates of the recently completed Youth Leadership Forum, a statewide disability advocacy training program for high school students. These three young men are part of the SELF-ADVOCATE LEADER AND INDIVIDUALS WITH DISABILITIES (SALID).

We proceeded to the staging area and waited in the rain approximately an hour and met with other parade participants. The other parade participants included individuals advocating for various candidates for President. A crew for Tommy Thompson and Tom Tamcrado were both in the immediate vicinity of our tour bus.
After the long wait, our time for riding in the parade arrived. Other entrants in the parade included high school brass bands, big trucks, tractors, classic cars and military contingencies. The parade route was approximately a mile long proceeding from the State Capital building area over to the west side of the downtown area. There were hundreds of people along the parade route and we talked to them and we shouted out support for the American’s with Disabilities Act while we proceeded on the parade route. Also we past the review stand and TV cameras. They televised our entry in the parade. At the conclusion of the parade it was approximately 9:00 at night. We parted company with the Road to Freedom group and made plans to meet with them on Thursday for day two of our “Road to Freedom” activities.

On the following morning, Road to Freedom crew members met with the Governor as he signed proclamations supporting Disability History Month as well as the Road To Freedom/ADA Restoration. The signing ceremony took place at the State Capital building at 9:30 a.m. Also in attendance was Bob Jeppesen, the Executive Director of the Central Iowa Center for Independent Living, as well as members of the SALID group and several disability advocacy organizations. The purpose of the disability history proclamation was to advocate for a disability history initiative. The disability history of Iowa has never been presented to school children. This proclamation is an initial step to provide training and establish some curriculum to tell the history of advocacy in the state of Iowa. Iowa’s disability advocacy history is long and distinguished. Many strides in disability advocacy have taken place in Iowa.

Later on the morning of August 9, the buses arrived at Nolan Plaza, a downtown gathering place in the downtown Des Moines for the Road To Freedom bus stop event with keynote speaker Senator Tom Harkin. When the buses arrived, a public address system had been setup and a local three piece band was preparing to provide music during the ADA event. The music group is called Slow Mo MoJo is comprised of two blind individuals, Frank Strong and Steve Hagenmoser and a bass player, John Lee Egan, a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, who is a disability advocate as well. Frank Strong sings, plays guitar and harmonica while Steve Hagemoser plays drums and sings.

CICIL and the other sponsors had rented 15 tables to various organizations in the community. The two primary sponsors of the event were the Central Iowa Center for Independent Living and Iowa Protection and Advocacy. Both are non-profit advocacy training programs. Tables were rented to other organizations including ResCare, a mental health service program, Social Security Administration, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Citizens Disability Council, the Iowa Statewide Independent Living Council and Total Mobility, a conversion van company for wheelchair accessible vehicles.

The two hour event began at noon at Nolan Plaza and featured speakers including Frank Cownie, Des Moines Mayor, Patty Judge the Lt. Governor, U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, the prime sponsor of the American’s with Disabilities Act, Lance Baker, a disability advocate and Christie Rushing the President of the Central Iowa Center for Independent Living Board of Directors. The event’s MC was Dee Howard, an Independent Living Specialist. Dee Howard is also a person with a disability. Hundreds of people attended the event. Attendees included not only people with disabilities and disability advocates but also the general public. Food and beverages were available on site. The temperature was very, very hot.

After the Road to Freedom event concluded, the buses prepared to leave to go to the next stop on the schedule. Frank Strong became a Freedom Rider riding on the Road To Freedom bus to the next stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

On August 10, the Road to Freedom buses attended an event in eastern Iowa. The Cedar Rapids event began at 1:00 p.m. at the Kernel Baseball Stadium. The Kernel’s Baseball Stadium has a picnic area where advocates met baseball players and received autographs. A tour of the Kernels stadium followed an autograph signing. The tour included various features of the Kernel Stadium. The stadium sits 6,000 and is wheelchair accessible.

At approximately 3:00 p.m. a music event was presented in the picnic area. The three piece band featured at this event is called Kevin Burt and the Instigators. Mr. Burt played Blues songs. The featured instruments were guitar, harmonica, bass and drums. Interestingly, this is the same musical instrument line up was used by Slow Mo MoJo on August 9.

As a part of the formal program made at the conclusion of the musical event, presentations were made by disability advocates, including Mike Hoenig, the coordinator of the SALID program from the University of Iowa as well as other disability advocates. Letters from Presidential candidates and representatives of Presidential candidates were also presented. The bus travelers met with local disability advocates. They also met with local media and discussed aspects of the Road to Freedom Bus Tour and advocacy for more disability rights and empowerment for people with disabilities.

The events at the picnic area concluded and the disability advocates marched to the baseball stadium.

Prior to the beginning of a baseball game, Kevin Burt sang the National Anthem. Following this presentation, Jim Ward spoke to the media as well as those in attendance at the baseball stadium regarding the Road to Freedom and its importance to people with disabilities.

The Road To Freedom crew collected signatures on a petition promoting an adoption of a legislative bill to reinforce the American’s with Disabilities Act.

The baseball game commenced between the Cedar Rapids Kernels and the Minneapolis Silver Hawks.

In conclusion, the Road to Freedom Tour crew are putting in a tremendous amount of effort to promote the rights and the empowerment of people with disabilities. We are glad that Iowa was an important stop on the Road To Freedom tour.

We believe the future will brighten for people with disabilities and we pledge to help in any advocacy effort on behalf of people with disabilities.

Submitted by

Frank Strong, Jr.
Associate Director

Central Iowa Center for Independent Living
655 Walnut; Suite 131
Des Moines, IA 50309
Telephone: (515) 243-1742 (Voice)
TTY: (515) 243-2177
Toll-free: (888) 503-2287
FAX: (515) 243-5385
Web site: www.centraliowacil.com

CICIL’s mission statement:
“Empowering people with disabilities to control their lives.”

Frank Strong’s personal mission statement is to…
“Live life fully with love, fun, and music.”
Frank Strong’s personal website:
www.rrsongs.com