Today marks the 29th anniversary of the Capitol Crawl, one of the biggest catalysts to finally passing the ADA. The ADA, or Americans with Disabilities Act, is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. It offers similar basic protections as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — yep, we covered race, color, religion, sex, and national origin in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but it took almost 30 years to remember that disabled people exist and are members of society who also deserve basic rights. Politicians were dragging their feet on passing the ADA because they didn’t think it was worth it, even with pressure from the council created on the Road to Freedom tour.
[Justin Dart (red square, known as the “Godfather of the ADA”) and his wife Yoshiko went on a “Road to Freedom” tour all over the US (they hit every single state, all on their own dime) to hold rallies. Throughout the states they began forming a council that traveled with them, all of whom had disabilities. With this council and input from others they met on the road, they drafted the declaration that would eventually be turned into the ADA. This photo is from one of their protests during the tour.]
So, on March 12, 1990, disability rights activists from all over the US went to the capitol to demand the passage of the ADA. After some speeches and a rally, a bunch of activists abandoned their mobility devices (wheelchairs, walkers, and canes alike) to crawl up the 83 stone steps of the U.S. Capitol Building while chanting things like “What do we want?” “ADA!” “When do we want it?” “NOW!”
Here are two photos from the event:
Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.) said of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990: “What we did for civil rights in the ‘60s, we forgot to do for people with disabilities.”
Activist Paulette Patterson, while inching her way up the stairs, was quoted as saying, “I want to be treated like a human being.”
An eight-year-old named Jennifer Keelan, who has Cerebral Palsy (the same disorder I have), was famously filmed as she crawled up the stairs. She became somewhat famous for firmly stating “I’ll take all night if I have to.” while crawling.
Michael Winters, a leader in the Independent Living Movement, later wrote about event and the reaction people had to the crawl. “Some people may have thought that it was undignified for people in wheelchairs to crawl in that manner, but I felt that it was necessary to show the country what kinds of things people with disabilities have to face on a day-to-day basis,” Winters recalled. “We had to be willing to fight for what we believed in.”
The biggest “reason” why the Capitol Crawl had such an impact on the senators and convinced them to pass it is because they felt “inconvenienced” by the “stunt” because they couldn’t use the stairs as easily during the protest… which if that doesn’t explain America’s attitude towards people with disabilities, I dunno what will.
Here’s an LA times article about it overall, but one of the last paragraphs is the “ugh” I have towards conservative administrations as a whole:
“Meantime, Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh notified key members of the House that the Administration would seek a change in the Senate-passed bill to make clear that disabled persons who are willfully discriminated against would not be entitled to monetary damages.”
On the 20th anniversary, one of the biggest campaigners for it in the senate, Senator Tom Harkin, penned a letter for HuffPost, and this is my favorite quote:
“I will always remember a young Iowan named Danette Crawford. In 1990, she was just 14. She used a wheelchair, and lived with great pain. But she campaigned hard for the ADA. When I told her that the ADA would mean better educational opportunities, and prevent workplace discrimination, Danette said: ‘Those things are very important. But, you know, what I really want to do is just be able to go out and buy a pair of shoes like anybody else.'”
Despite the fact that the Capitol Crawl was 29 years ago and the 29th anniversary of the ADA is coming up in a few months, disabled people *still* don’t have marriage equality.
The issue of marriage equality for the disability community is not a new one. It is heavily intertwined with the movement towards eugenics, where people with disabilities were not only sterilized against their will, but also prohibited from marrying. In Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kansas, Minnesota, and Michigan, people with intellectual disabilities, mental disabilities, and epilepsy were prevented from marrying due to a series of laws that were passed in the early 20th century. Other states used legislation prohibiting anyone they considered to have a “genetic defect” from marrying. To this day, while in some instances the law is unenforced, most of these laws have never been repealed.
Removing the laws from the books has been argued against, because some members of the government seem to believe that it is protecting people with disabilities who they deem as, “unable to make their own decisions.” The people affected usually have intellectual disabilities, severe physical disabilities, or they lack the ability to communicate in a ‘typical’ way such as through vocalization. However, these laws are just the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to the government’s interference in deciding whether people with disabilities are able to marry or not.
No matter what kind of benefits a disabled person receives from the government (whether it’s just state-sponsored insurance or they fully rely on social security for everything), if they receive any they lose some or all of it if they get married because their spouse’s income will be considered their income too, even if the parties keep their finances separate or the able-bodied spouse doesn’t make nearly enough to support the disabled person. It’s not limited to just marriage, either. If a disabled person lives with someone else, their income is counted too. It doesn’t matter how much the able-bodied person makes or if they even contribute to the household *at all.* I personally know someone who had her brother move in after he broke up with his girlfriend and had nowhere else to go. He lived there for three months and didn’t contribute a dime to the household because he was down on his luck financially too. She *still* had her benefits slashed and was never given her money back when she clarified the situation with social security.
Here are several articles that explain nuances and provide various points of view:
In more recent news, there’s currently a bill proposal by U.S. Rep. John Katko (R-NY) and co-sponsored by Rep. Bill Keating (D-Mass.) that would protect disability benefits for disabled people who want to get married, although it currently only addresses developmental and intellectual disabilities. The name of the bill is gross and extremely ableist (“Marriage Access for People with Special Abilities Act”), but the core of the bill is important, and it needs to be passed and expanded to include physical disabilities too. More information can be read about it here: https://www.disabilityscoop.com/2019/03/12/bill-protect-ssi-marry/26170/?fbclid=IwAR0oF1MvRDrM3RBRzIzKujKEb_S4UpllaN1ktu1wNmUqinHcUbyAZbx3RYE
However, that tiny bit of possible good news also comes with a flip-side of absolutely gross news: the Trump administration is now attempting to use social media to deny disability claims and kick people off of disability. https://nyti.ms/2tZrawl
This post is pretty United States-centric, but I’m unsure of the disability marriage equality situations in other countries, and attempting to research it gave me zero information that wasn’t about LGBTQIA+ marriage equality. So if you’re not from the U.S., feel free to research it and let us know.