As a member of the Subcommittee on Select Education, Patricia Laird was one of the 2,500 individuals at the White House lawn the day the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed by President George Bush – and was only a few feet away from the signing stage. In honor of the anniversary of the signing of the ADA, Patricia shares her memories from that historic day, exclaiming, “I’ll never forget that experience!!!!”
The weather defied every prediction. It was a beautiful summer day in July. The White House planners had wanted medics available since there would be over 2,000 disabled people attending. The disability community said “No”, just provide lots of water.
There was an excitement in the air as I wheeled toward the White House entrance for the event. I could see Justin Dart’s helpers passing out commemorative pins that had a silver leaf with ADA written on it; red, white, and blue color ribbons; small roses; and the flag. After today I’d always wear it for each anniversary.
Justin was our symbolic leader in our crusade to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. He traversed the country holding hearings to gather testimony that would become crucial in convincing congressional lawmakers that discrimination against disabled people was pervasive in our country resulting in the denial of millions of Americans with disabilities their equal rights. After showing my invitation, I was escorted to my seat. As a Congressional staffer, I was seated only a few feet away from the signing stage. As I looked around me it was a spectacular sight of masses of disabled folks. A military band played in the background. It wasn’t long before I heard the band playing “Hail to the Chief” and President Bush walked past me to access the stage. It was a short ceremony — just enough time for the President to make a congratulatory statement recognizing the historical significance of the legislation he was about to sign into law, and then, with one swift movement of the pen, giving civil rights status to over 35 million people with disabilities! Cheers and applause filled the air. Most of us lingered on the lawn that day, taking pictures to capture the reality of the moment.
There were festivities throughout the day. Following the signing ceremony, a luncheon reception was held at a nearby park. Key Congressional legislators were giving speeches. Elation engulfed all of us. In the evening was a huge celebratory party in the Hart Senate Office building. Outstanding was a gigantic cake with a depiction of Justin Dart’s hat in the middle! It was an extraordinary ending to such a historical day.
It was a bittersweet moment for me. My mother was dying of colon cancer. She had always been the main supporter of my advocacy activities to make changes to improve the lives of people with disabilities. She understood that today was the day I had been working for, dreaming of, and today, she celebrated with me.