Most people know that Rosa Parks' heroic act of resistance to a system of inequality sparked new fire in the Civil Rights Movement. However, most people do not know that Rosa Parks' courage fueled another civil rights movement - the Disability Rights Movement.
In 1984, the Disability Rights Movement took on new energy when, in direct imitation of Rosa Parks, who “stood up by sitting down,” 12 men and women rolled their wheelchairs in front of a Chicago City bus to protest that city's purchase of 363 new buses with not one being equipped with a wheelchair lift. When police intervened, they found that all 12 protesters wore nametags saying, “My Name Is Rosa Parks.” This, and other actions like it, culminated in passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990, itself a landmark piece of civil rights legislation.
The ADA protects anyone with a disability from being discriminated against solely because they have a disability. This legislation also requires the removal of barriers to buildings and services, so that people with disabilities can more fully participate in normal daily life.
Although there is expense and some inconvenience in removing barriers, the benefits far outweigh the costs in terms of the dollars people with disabilities now spend at accessible establishments, and the contributions they make at accessible work places. There is assistance to workers and employers from state vocational rehabilitation programs, as well.
Not to be forgotten are our seniors, who will also benefit from this protective legislation as aging increases their need for accessibility. Like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the ADA is only a beginning to full inclusion. There is still a long way to go. But we are getting there, thanks to courageous pioneers like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., the 12 who parked their wheelchairs in from of a Chicago bus, and many more like them.
Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission
Southeast Area Marketing Representative