Advocacy & Awareness
Disability advocates concerned with disability rights were relieved to see the Americans with Disabilities Act signed into law in July 1990. At the signing when President Bush said, ‘Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down’ many Americans were still ignorant about disability awareness and had no idea the impact the law would have. Of course, professionals like those working in mental health advocacy, or teachers involved in special education advocacy knew the importance of the new disability law. They also knew the walls of exclusion would not “come tumbling down” with the stroke of a pen.
Disabilities advocacy groups realized the law would be a powerful tool for inclusion but to achieve its full effect everyone had to understand the human side of the law and advocacy education through disabilities awareness would be necessary. Common respect, courtesy and eliminating the awkwardness people experienced interacting with a person who has a disability would be the goal. Although the law did not mandate disability sensitivity training, people with a disability knew the importance of disability etiquette. They understood that the need was great and that teaching disability awareness was not going to be an easy task. Hence, awareness training became the mission for the next two decades for many professionals and advocates alike.
Soon there were disability awareness resources being offered by disability advocacy groups from coast to coast. Initially there were disability awareness videos that were more general relating to both disability advocate teaching and disability sensitivity training. Soon after, specialty subjects such as developmental disability awareness, disability awareness for children, learning disability awareness, deafness awareness, and special needs awareness became more focused within these programs.
Twenty years after the signing, advocacy for people with disabilities has not only the Americans with Disabilities Act as its foundation, but a tremendous arsenal of other tools as well. These include videos, pamphlets, seminars, books, and web sites that facilitate disability advocacy training and beyond. The law and all of the subsequent training materials teach two of the basic needs of each of us: courtesy and respect.