Michigan Mining Journal

By KIM HOYUM

MARQUETTE – A national bus tour promoting the Americans with Disabilities Act got plenty of support Tuesday when it stopped at the Marquette Commons.

“Is the ADA about charity?” asked Jim Ward, president of ADA Watch and the National Coalition of Disability Rights.

“No!” shouted back a crowd of more than 100 Upper Peninsula residents.

“Is the ADA about pity?” “No!”

“Is the ADA about sympathy?” “No!”

Ward has been traveling the country with his family, road crew and camera since November on the Road to Freedom bus, a disability rights tour designed to celebrate the 1990 ADA and raise awareness of issues that still need to be addressed.

His message is simple: this is a civil rights act, not charity or a bureaucratic mandate. “People aren’t familiar with the idea of people with disabilities active in civil rights and participating in acts of civil disobedience,” Ward said. “Hopefully, people can come to understand the people’s movement that got the ADA passed and that despite the hard work that went into it, it’s being rolled back in the courts.”

Superior Alliance for Independent Living Executive Director Amy Maes, who worked to bring the bus tour to Marquette, said in the years since the ADA was approved, judges have begun to interpret it more narrowly than it was intended.

“This is kind of to remind folks what the original intent was when they wrote it,” she said. The non-profit SAIL’s purpose is to advocate for people with disabilities across the U.P., Maes said, and she sees one issue constantly. “Our big concern is employment,” Maes said. “It’s just one area that there is still a lot of stigmatism. … Probably the most litigated part of the ADA is the employment section.”

Supreme Court employment decisions since 1999 that narrowed the scope of the ADA are part of the concern for Road to Freedom, and the reason why Ward is encouraging residents to support the passage of the ADA Restoration Act. The restoration act was proposed in 2004 by the National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency, to more broadly protect people with disabilities from discrimination.

“You’ll hear from many business groups that, oh, this is an imposition by bureaucrats. But it’s really in response to a grassroots effort,” Ward said.

The roots were in evidence Tuesday, as people with disabilities and family members brought signs welcoming the bus tour and voiced support for Ward, Maes and other speakers. Ward filmed some of the event as well, as he has on the rest of the tour, and plans to produce a documentary when the tour ends in November. “We’d like to say to the rest of America, ‘get on the bus,’ ” he told the crowd.

More information on the tour and the ADA can be found at http://www.roadtofreedom.org./