Community celebrates ADA


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Despite the heat last weekend, the Pedestrian Mall was filled with children dancing to music alongside wheelchairs, cotton candy being passed around, and speakers sharing stories.

The gathering was in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a wide-ranging civil-rights bill that prohibits discrimination based on disability, including employment.

Jefri Palermo, a developmental coordinator for the University of Iowa School of Social Work, has organized the annual event for several years, said the celebration raises awareness about individuals with disabilities. 

“Our main purpose is education and affirmation so people in the community with disabilities can be visible and not hidden away,” she said.

UI graduate student Kyle Spading, who described his experience in Iowa City as a person in a wheelchair, played tight end for the Hawkeyes as an undergraduate at Iowa. After graduation, he moved home and was involved in a rollover car accident that left him paralyzed from the chest down.

“Iowa City and this community have done so much for me,” he said. “I knew at that moment in time after the crash I would need to move forward and pursue my master’s degree.”

Spading is working on a master’s degree in the UI’s Rehab Mental Health Counseling Program.

He noted his struggles finding accessible housing downtown, a problem for many people with physical disabilities.

Palermo said she hopes speakers such as Spading will inspire the community and the university to think of people with disabilities.

“We just don’t think about those things unless we are in that situation and people need to think ‘Are we accessible? Is everything we have here accessible,’ ” she said.

Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, who also spoke at the event, discussed the involvement of former Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, in the ADA.

“Even though Tom Harkin is not here today, he is here in spirit,” Loebsack said.

Harkin co-wrote and introduced a revised version of the ADA to the Senate, which passed the bill in 1990.

In an interview with The Daily Iowan, Harkin said the debate over the ADA continues to be on how to implement the law. Federal agencies, such as the Justice Department, continue to release regulations that expand the 25-year-old law.

“Now, we have regulations coming out to enforce the ADA, and that’s where the stumbling blocks might be in the future — as with any law, you have to have regulations on how the law is to implemented and enforced,” he said.

Throughout the celebration and speeches, one message rang clear from everyone involved: The ADA is not the end for the fight for disability rights.

Palermo stressed the importance of equal-employment opportunities.

“Most people with disabilities cannot find work, even though they are perfectly capable,” she said. “People don’t hire people with disabilities, so they’re doomed to a life of poverty.”

Loebsack said the wants opportunity to allow all individuals to flourish.

“We have to keep an eye on giving those [with disabilities] the most opportunities possible,” Loebsack said. “If they’re given the opportunity, I know and you know that the sky’s the limit.”

Spading said there is still work to be done.

“Twenty-five years ago, we were denied our basic human rights,” he said. “It brought us back to ground level. It leveled the playing field for us.”

He called on those at the event to action.

“The ADA has so much further to go,” he said. “It is our duty, as individuals, to take that torch from now on. Let’s make ourselves heard.”

Politics reporter Brent Griffiths contributed to this story.

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