In 1990, “over 1,000 people marched from the White House to the U.S. Capitol to demand that Congress pass the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. When they got there, about 60 of them cast aside their wheelchairs and other mobility aids and crawled up the Capitol steps” (history.com). This event, later called the Capitol Crawl, served as a catalyst, perhaps the catalyst, for the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD) is on December 3, and this year’s theme is “Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible, and sustainable post-COVID-19 world.” The World Health Organization (WHO) states, “COVID-19 has resulted in further disadvantage and increased vulnerability for many persons with disabilities due to barriers in the health and social sectors, including discriminatory attitudes and inaccessible infrastructure.” That language is jarringly resonant against the imagery of the 1990 Capitol Crawl.
The last time my family was in need of a COVID test, there was a taxi in front of us at the drive-thru testing site. There was a passenger in the front seat–unusual for a customer, I thought (though perhaps I’m old-fashioned), especially one that ostensibly needed a COVID test. Perhaps it was a friend or a family member, just like our own car full of people. Or perhaps it was a person with a disability that does not drive. Of course there are myriad explanations, but that one stuck with me. The experience highlighted the new intricacies of accessibility that the WHO details in their statement: to work, school, family and friends, food, medical care, and so on. Equitable access is one of the goals of building an inclusive society and is what the ADA strives to provide. In this new world, hiring a taxi to get a COVID test is hardly accessible for many, though it is certainly necessary.
I have yet to live with a disability, though researching for this post has taught me that I likely will at some point in my life. As a librarian, my instinct is to turn to literature to help my children and me understand. Literature allows us to learn, through stories, of the lives of other people. And yet, the IDPD theme includes a key phrase: “leadership and participation of persons with disabilities.” As an individual and as a parent, sure, this means advocating for a more inclusive world for persons with disabilities. Perhaps more importantly, it also means teaching my children and learning for myself how to hold space for others to lead the way.
So where can we go from here? The American Library Association created the Schneider Family Book Award in 2004 to “honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.” One of the honors this year went to a biography of Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins, who as an 8-year-old participated in the Capitol Crawl, called All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything by Annette Bay Pimentel and illustrated by Nabi H. Ali. Like the legislation that Keelan-Chaffins fought for, this story of her life seems like a great place to start.