Charleston Gazette

By Eric Eyre
Staff writer

A national bus tour exhibit about the disability rights movement will make a stop this weekend at the South Charleston Wal-Mart on Corridor G.
West Virginia leads the nation with more than 27 percent of residents reporting they are disabled, according to national health surveys. Nearly 10 percent of West Virginians have health problems that require special equipment — also the highest rate in the United States.

The bus tour includes a multimedia display about the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act and photographs from Tom Olin, whose work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

“The Act is extremely important here in West Virginia because we have so many people with disabilities,” said David Stewart, coordinator for the West Virginia ADA Coalition. The “Road to Freedom Tour” has stopped at 65 events in 44 states during the past year, a journey that has stretched more than 20,000 miles. The exhibits explain the struggle for disability rights and promote the expansion of educational and economic opportunities for children and adults with physical and developmental disabilities.

The ADA was designed to prevent discrimination against people with disabilities. Stewart said 70 percent of disabled people of working age in the United States don’t have jobs. Also, 90 percent of people who file disability rights lawsuits in federal court wind up losing, he said. Stewart said U.S. Supreme Court rulings have eroded the Act in recent years.

“The United States of America made a promise to people with disabilities, and it’s not being upheld,” Stewart said. “We need to make people aware of what’s happening, the history of the Act, and why it’s important.”

Jim Ward, president of ADA Watch and the National Coalition for Disability Rights, travels on the bus and plans to talk about problems with the Act, which became law 17 years ago. Ward also is collecting signatures that he will present to Congress, urging lawmakers to approve the proposed ADA Restoration Act. West Virginia disability rights advocates also plan to speak at this weekend’s event.

“This is very significant, and it’s extremely relevant in West Virginia,” said Seth DiStefano, field organizer with the state affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union. “The photographic display alone is worth a visit.” The exhibit will be open 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 3 p.m. Sunday at the Southridge Centre Wal-Mart, 2700 Mountaineer Boulevard, South Charleston.

To contact staff writer Eric Eyre, use e-mail or call 348-4869.