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US Leaders Mark 20th Anniversary of Americans With Disabilities Act

Laurel Bowman

The Americans with Disabilities Act, also called ADA, is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of mental or physical disabilities. It regulates federal and local programs, transportation, public accommodations and commercial facilities, and has, by wide accounts, transformed the lives of the disabled. On Monday, as one disabled activist commemorated the passage of the act, she also dreamed of what more can be done.  

It was 20 years ago, when U.S. President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law.

"I now lift this pen to sign this Americans with Disabilities Act and say let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down," said Mr. Bush.

That landmark act was commemorated in Washington, as lawmakers and the disabled celebrated, looking backwards and ahead.

Congressman Jim Langevin is the first quadriplegic elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.  He is paralyzed from the waist down.

"My God how the world has changed with the passage of this bill," said Jim Langevin. "So many barriers have been brought down, so many doors have been opened, so many opportunities created."

Sitting in the back of the room at this Washington press conference was Marca Bristo. She broke her neck diving into a lake and was paralyzed at the age of 23.  

She says passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act changed her life forever.

"One time I went to the planetarium and you had to ride the garbage elevator, and there were no lights and it was kind of scary, and one time I rode up that elevator with a big old rat and I don't have to do that anymore," said Marca Bristo.

Bristo runs the U.S. International Council on Disabilities which works to improve laws governing the lives of people with disabilities here and abroad.  She says being disabled in some countries is a curse.

"People with disabilities are living in the streets in some countries," she said. "In some countries it is deemed you have been possessed by the devil, put out on the street as being a shame to your family and really having to live very subhuman lives."

She says employment is the next big challenge.  And that lawmakers and businesses should help develop better work opportunities for the disabled, move them out of institutions and into the community, and make the Internet more accessible.  But for Bristo, that is a job for tomorrow.  

Today was for celebrating.

"Telecommunications have opened up for people who are deaf, ATMs are readable by people who are blind, it's been a real revolution," said Marca Bristo.

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