By Kathryn Caggianelli
TROY – A 50-foot red, white and blue bus carrying a group of advocates in favor of redefining the meaning of the word “disabled” rolled into downtown Wednesday afternoon for a press conference in front of the Atrium on Third Street.
One side of the bus touted the slogan “keeping the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act” (ADA). “The Road to Freedom Bus Tour” was emblazoned on the other side.
“We’re calling on Americans to pass the ADA Restoration Act of 2007,” said Jim Ward, founder and president of ADA Watch and the National Coalition for Disability Rights (NCDR) based in Washington, D.C.
Ward and a handful of other advocates have been on the road for 10 months to raise awareness about the plight of people with disabilities and how the ADA, passed by Congress in 1990, falls short with regard to protecting the civil rights of those individuals.
The local press conference was presented by the Sanctuary for Independent Media and The Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley to showcase ways the spirit of the ADA has been eroded by court cases that fail to support the right of the disabled. The event preceded the opening of a multi-media exhibit at the Atrium and a benefit dinner.
The bus has visited 36 states and covered more than 17,000 miles. Advocates have appeared at 45 similar press conferences in an effort to drive home the need for reform.
“We are here as students to learn from local leaders and people with disabilities how the ADA is and is not working,” Ward said.
More than 95 percent of employment-related disability cases are dismissed in the courts. If a disabled person can be helped by medication or a prosthesis device the courts, many times, don’t consider them disabled enough to be covered by the ADA. That’s not what Congress intended when it passed the ADA in 1990, Ward said.
Disabilities, whether visible or not, do not exempt people from their basic civil rights, he said.
“For example, people with epilepsy or mental illness are often left out of the increasingly narrow interpretation of disability under the ADA,” Ward said.
The unemployment rate for people with disabilities is 70-percent, which is further proof that not much progress has been made since passage of the ADA, Ward said.
Ward and his peers are pushing for reform through passage of the ADA Restoration Act of 2007. Passage of the new and revised legislation would limit ways the courts can exploit the rights of disabled Americans.
“It helps to have a national presence in local towns to help bring light to the fact that the ADA has been under attack for the last 17 years,” said Denise Figueroa, director of the Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley.
The Independent Living Center provides life services for people with disabilities.
By raising awareness, the Road to Freedom Bus Tour helps such organizations as Figueroa’s recruit volunteers and educate the public about the need for reform, she said.
Advocates have taken their message on the road as a way to achieve equal access to the American Dream for all people, disabled or not, Ward said.