Where Were You on That Special Day?

Should we stay or should we go?  Should we be at the historic signing ceremony for the Americans with Disabilities Act or should we be on our annual summer vacation?

This self-created dilemma began in early January 1990 when the Raggio family started our vacation planning. Though our children, ages 7 and 5, had limited planning skills, they brought abundant ideas and enthusiasm to the mix. We chose the Outerbanks of North Carolina as our summer destination and booked a condo – immediately.

During the ensuing months, our anticipation of this trip grew, as did our awareness that the Americans with Disabilities Act was about to move past its final hurdle in the House of Representatives. Like so many people with disabilities and our advocates, I had written letters and made phone calls in support of the ADA. Finally, it passed in the House and was ready for the President’s signature. Eureka! There would be a special signing ceremony at the White House.

When the date of the signing became known, it was, to our dismay, smack dab in the middle of our non-refundable, cancellation-proof vacation. As President of the National Association of Developmental Disabilities Councils, I received an invitation to the signing ceremony.  Jim, my husband, was General Counsel at The Access Board and was also invited.

What to do? Cancel the vacation and make it up to the kids with lavish gifts for the next fifteen years or skip the signing ceremony and regret it for the rest of our lives? We reluctantly declined and headed for the Outerbanks. You simply do not disappoint your kids if you can avoid it!

On July 26, we hurried back to the condo after a morning swim with the kids and turned on the TV. Yes, this momentous occasion for the disability community was being broadcast nationwide. It was an emotional experience for me, especially when President Bush stated, “let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.” There I was, relishing a family vacation, well-aware that many of my sisters and brothers with disabilities, particularly those stuck in institutions, were not able to enjoy the inclusive experiences that I often took for granted.

On July 26, 1990, I had new optimism that the ADA would open doors and present greater opportunities for everyone, especially for children with disabilities. Has it? Yes but . . .  the doors are ajar, and we must be committed to widening those openings, particularly to employment and community living.  In the words of the late, great Justin Dart, we must “Lead On”.

Where Were You on That Special Day?
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