What Was it Like for People with Disabilities 25 Years Ago?

Twenty-five short years ago, the United States Capitol had no wheelchair ramps. You read that right. The monument that pretty much defines American equality and justice was inaccessible to people using wheelchairs.

Disable demonstrators crawl the Capitol steps. Photo: Action for Access, Tom Olin

Demonstrators with disabilities crawl the Capitol steps. Photo: Action for Access, Tom Olin

In 1990, activists in Washington, D.C. struggled out of their wheelchairs and crawled up the Capitol steps to urge lawmakers to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Capitol Crawl and other demonstrations across the country were modeled on tactics used in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and they helped push legislators to pass the ADA 25 years ago this month.

Some Millenniums, and all members of Generation Z have no concept of life before curb cuts on sidewalks and Braille on elevator buttons.. Accessible design is so common now that even older generations hardly remember buildings without wheelchair ramps or public transportation without lifts to accommodate people who need them.

An NPR reporter asked Katy Neas, ‎Executive Vice President of Public Affairs here at Easter Seals Headquarters, to remind us what things were like back in the 20th Century, and Katy told the reporter that when she was working with Easter Seals to get the Americans with Disabilities Act passed in 1990, too many people with disabilities were out of sight — and therefore out of the minds — of the general public.

“There was a lot of ignorance about the interests and abilities of people with disabilities,” she said. “Discrimination and low expectations were part of the mainstream culture. Why would someone who uses a wheelchair want to go to the movies? Why would someone who is blind want to eat in a restaurant?” that last quote stopped me in my tracks. We’ve come a long way, baby.

Twenty-five years ago, Easter Seals hired a Minneapolis ad agency to create posters for adults and children with disabilities to bring along to protests and events across the country. The posters were used in print public service announcements, too. More from the NPR story:

As an outspoken advocate for the ADA, Easter Seals created a series of powerful posters that illustrated the dilemmas — and desires — of disabled Americans and helped the country understand the reasons for, and responsibilities resulting from, the anti-discrimination legislation.

We’ve still got a ways to go (for example, the unemployment rate among people who are blind still hovers around 75%) but we really have come a long way in a short time. See for yourself – take a look at our historic ADA posters now for an idea of what things were like for people with disabilities back in the dark ages.


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  1. Billy Varner Says:

    This report was a welcomed reminder of how much I take for granted and that I am blessed in order to be a blessing to someone else. That is my purpose. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Kat Demsky Says:

    Thanks for this ed! And the links to the posters! Keep up the great work! Kat

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