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BY ETHAN ELLIS
ADVOCATE

The first Congressional hearing on the ADA was held on Sept. 27, 1988. That morning, 150
of us New Jerseyans boarded a train to Washington, D.C. along with other people with disabilities.

With the state and U.S. flags unfurled, we marched to the Hart Senate Office Building, led by a motorcycle escort. Sen. Tom Harkin, chairing the hearing, said, “I’ve been handed a note saying there are 60 people here from New Jersey.” “Hell no. There are 150 of us,” came the reply. C-SPAN documented it.

Justin Dart met 200 New Jerseyans on his 50-state tour pro- moting the ADA the following spring.
That summer he called to ask if I could get New Jersey’s Senators to support the bill. Colleen Fraser and I organized a bus trip to see Sens. Bradley and Lautenberg. They were on the bill when we got home.

When Pres. Bush refused to sign the bill, 200 of us marched to the White House for a candle-light vigil in the rain. Our songs kept Barbara up until George agreed to sign it. On July 27, 1990, 5,000 Americans, including a large N.J. contingent at- tended the signing on the White House lawn.

A year later, we celebrated at Liberty State Park. It rained so only 900 came, including Gov. Florio. The sun came out when he spoke.

But in 2005, Monday Morning, the largest group of cross- disability activists in New Jersey refused to celebrate. Instead, we carried the ADA in a coffin through downtown Trenton and buried it in a city park. We were ahead of our time.

The 2010 Harris poll found that 62 percent thought they were worse off since the ADA passed. Only 26 percent said they were better off.

Me? My life has been more comfortable. My wife and I eat at more (but not all) restaurants, attend more (but not all) plays and concerts, travel on more planes and trains (but not all) with less hassle and delays.

I was lucky. My parents, both educators, educated me when I was denied a public education. They taught me that I was as good as my non-disabled peers. As a result, I’ve been able to make a good living.

The periactin with dis- abilities, who average less than $18,000 a year, live at or below the poverty line and can’t afford most of the benefits of the ADA or the lawyers needed to enforce it.

After the ADA, law-makers failed to take the necessary next step to guarantee basic human rights to Americans with dis- abilities including the right to food and shelter; to medical care; to education and to a job, to stay out of poverty or equivalent benefits if they can’t work.

All Americans must have these rights. There is more than enough wealth in this society to guarantee them, but until all have them, people with disabilities won’t.

Until then, the promise we once saw in the ADA can not be fulfilled.

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