My name is Keith Ruff, I am 74 years young, which means more than half of my life was in the era of being not seen and not heard. Growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s with Cerebral Palsy we did not go to integrated schools, the kids like me with disabilities only went to school with others like us, and the thought of going on to college was unheard of. We understood that the world was not open to us on an equal level.
On August 26, 1990, the door was opened with the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The invisible segment of the US population became visible, and we earned rights that I fear are being taken for granted by those who have come up after us.
Before The ADA
Before the ADA we didn’t speak up, we didn’t use our voice, we just knew there were buildings we couldn’t access, services that we couldn’t utilize, and we were left mostly in a world of our own. As a community, we were isolated. So we organized with our allies at the local, state and national levels. We learned to speak up, we made our collective voice heard and the doors were opened to us. It took patience, perseverance, and dedication to the cause.
We are not unlike other minority populations who required legislation to assist us in gaining basic rights. But we know that the law alone does not guarantee our place in the community. Laws and perception shift with time, but the fight to be fully included in all aspects of society is far from over. It’s up to the people born after the passage of the ADA to pick up the gauntlet the older generation fought to advance.
Calling on You
In other words, just because the law says we can do something today, or that certain accommodations are to be provided, we cannot expect to be granted anything unless we keep working as people in our communities. We must fully participate at the local level; politically, socially and in education and commerce, or those rights may melt away. I call on my fellow citizens with disabilities to be more active in all facets of life today. We should celebrate 29 years of ADA’s passage but know that the work is not done. Now that we are visible, we must be productive.
I want to thank Chris Lenart for using his voice for our community and for giving me an opportunity to share mine on his wonderful platform. I look forward to offering additional thoughts on how we as people with disabilities can lead change in this country.
Keith Ruff lives in Iowa City, Iowa and has recently published his memoirs https://www.amazon.com/Wheeling-Through-Years-Keith-Ruff-ebook/dp/B07L8NPYJL