— Written by Dan Wilkins, Director of Special Projects
ADAPT activists and others in support of the movement gathered in front of the White House to begin their spring campaign, “Wheels of Justice,” with a march to the U. S. Capitol Building. There they intended to pressure Congress to move on the “Americans with Disabilities Act.” Stalled in committees, advocates were restless.
As the crowd swelled to 700, the march commenced and proceeded up Pennsylvania Avenue. The line of concerned and active citizens – exercising their civil rights to assemble and protest – stretched for a mile, affecting DC traffic. Though orderly, they were not quiet, chanting, “What Do We Want?” “Our ADA!” “When Do We Want It?” “NOW!!”
Upon reaching the Capitol’s west side, facing the mall, the crowd grabbed lunches and coalesced around a microphone to listen to fiery speeches by Justin Dart Jr, Chair of the President’s Committee on Employment of PWDs, Rep. Pat Schoeder (D-CO), I. King Jordan, President, Gallaudet University, Rep. Major Owens (D-NY), Bobby Silverstein, Senate Disability Policy Sub-Committee on Labor and HR, Evan Kemp, Jr., Chair of the EEOC, James Brady, former Reagan Press Secretary, and Mike Auberger, Co-Founder of ADAPT.
They had come to demand swift passage of the ADA – with no weakening amendments. When Justin rolled to the microphone, the crowd fell silent.
“You are the pioneer patriots of the 20th Century. We are here today representing 43 million Americans with disabilities forced by massive discrimination to be this nation’s most isolated, unemployed, impoverished and welfare-dependent minority. President Bush has estimated the economic cost to America of this discrimination to be $300 billion per year. The devastating human cost would be impossible to communicate in number or words. We are here today to tell the Congress that two centuries is long enough for people with disabilities to wait for the Constitutional promise of Justice.”
Little did they know the history they would make this day, or the effect they would have on Congress. Following the speeches, empowered and chanting, everyone moved to the steps – and one by one, spontaneously began to crawl.
The point of the “Capitol Crawl,” as it came to be called, was to illustrate the indignities and obstacles faced on a daily basis by people living with disabilities due to lack of access and attitudinal barriers, and, in the words of ADAPT’s Bob Kafka, “show our determination that no barrier would stop us from gaining our civil rights.”
Fraught with frustration and yearning to be free, many spontaneously joined the crawl, making it up the 78 steps to the top. Once there, the climbers broke into two groups, delivering messages to Speaker Tom Foley and House Minority Leader Bob Michels demanding swift passage of the ADA with no weakening amendments.