Members of the Lawrence community celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on Saturday, lauding the progress it has brought but at the same time noting there are more advances to be made.
The ADA 25th Anniversary Celebration included three keynote speakers, a panel discussion and a Q&A;, drawing about 150 people to the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St.
State Rep. Boog Highberger, of Lawrence, who was temporarily paralyzed but regained most of his mobility after breaking his neck as a teenager, remarked how the ADA had positively impacted his life.
“I — like so many others — thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act was able to come back and contribute to society, ” Highberger said.
Dot Nary, an assistant research professor at the Research and Training Center on Independent Living at Kansas University, told stories about the difficulties she encountered when she first started using a wheelchair — from looking for employment to renting hotel rooms to parking issues. But, Nary noted, she recognized that despite all that, she is fortunate to have been able to go to college and have a professional career.
“I am the exception and I know it. Many people don’t have the support that gives them that leg up in life,” Nary said, noting that as a society we need to improve the quality of life for people with physical challenges.
Ray Petty, the Kansas Coordinator for the Great Plains ADA Center, expanded on Nary’s point, citing statistics that people with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty and be unemployed. Petty said that in addition to making sure universities and vocational schools are accessible, he would like to see improvements in high school counseling for disabled students in order to make goals for their future.
“There’s not a real good linkage between peoples’ skills and opportunities,” Petty said.
Ray Pence, a KU American Studies lecturer whose research focuses on the history of people with disabilities in the U.S., said that his background has influenced his perspective on the topic.
“There’s a lot of hard work to be done, and that’s one thing American Studies has taught me — to take a longer view and a more critical view,” Pence said.
Pence said that even after the passage of legislation such as the ADA, it’s the continuing efforts that eventually will ensure equal rights and equal opportunities for people with disabilities.
“Those struggles are not finished, and everyone here is contributing,” Pence said.