Leo’s Letter: The ADA, Policy Landmarks, and Your Activism

What are some of the key ingredients to advance opportunities for persons with disabilities? To start with, I would say laws, activism, and leadership.

Now 31 years old, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is most likely the leading law we look toward, although there are others which provide ballast for advancing opportunity.

For example, due to the ADA, Medicaid law, and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), we saw much activity in the mid-2010s to advance employment. Our state chose to initiate “Employment First” in 2013 without any legal pressure, while the states of Rhode Island in 2014 and Oregon in 2015 settled with the Federal Department of Justice to address violations of the ADA in regard to employment opportunities.

Leadership and activism tend to go hand in hand, too. Individuals and organizations need to demonstrate leadership by sharing information, focusing on key goals, and avoiding the distractions that can divide us.

This was true with Nicky’s Law when we came together. Joined by two families (Chan and Joyce) who demonstrated leadership, committed legislators, the Disability Law Center, support through DDS and others, The Arc worked to advance justice and address a gap in protections.a

Leadership also reminds me of many volunteer leaders who have stirred us, including another outcome related to justice.

In 1993, Joseph Buonomo (past national president in 1981) and his wife, Dot, led the fight for accommodations of victims or witnesses with ID in court. Eventually, this law was broadened to encompass disabilities. Joe passed away last week, and his funeral will be held on July 27.

So what does it take to advance opportunities for people with disabilities?

A combination of leadership yesterday, today and tomorrow, activism, and our laws.

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