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Over the past few weeks, high schools across the metropolitan St. Louis region have hosted graduation ceremonies. Before audiences of families and faculties, graduates crossed stages to receive their well-earned diplomas. While some students walked across the stage, others used wheelchairs, walkers, or canes. Service animals accompanied some graduates. Other graduates had intellectual/cognitive disabilities such as Asperger syndrome, ADD/ADHD, and dyslexia. Students with mental illnesses such as bipolar disorders also graduated. Regardless of their abilities, these members of the Millennial Generation were reared and educated side-by-side. The graduating classes of 2010—born less than two decades ago—have lived their entire young lives in a nation that was forever altered by the most vital civil rights legislation for people with disabilities: the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law July 26, 1990.
To mark this milestone, the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park offers The Americans with Disabilities Act: 20 Years Later, a 1,000-square-foot gallery installation that discusses life before the passage of the ADA; the actual signing of the legislation and an understanding of its intricacies; the 10th anniversary experience; and the myriad changes that have occurred in America and our region since the legislation was enacted.
The Americans with Disabilities Act: 20 Years Later opened Saturday, June 26, 2010, in the Missouri History Museum’s Mallinckrodt Gallery.
Artifacts include an iron lung used by those living with polio; a 1919 poster promoting a Red Cross program that offered training to WWI disabled veterans; a child’s shoe with a brace, ca. 1890; a page from the admission book from the “St. Louis County Insane Asylum” (now known as the St. Louis Psychiatric Rehabilitation Center) on Arsenal Street, which opened its doors in 1869; a Triumph 6 Super tie clip hearing aid, ca. 1961; political pins promoting the ADA, featuring the slogans “Roll to the Polls” and “Not Dead Yet"; OXO brand tools, which are examples of Universal Design; artwork created by artists with disabilities; T-shirts; photographs; material related to the St. Louis Rolling Rams, the local wheelchair basketball team; the torch used in the Spirit of ADA Torch relay, an event commemorating the 10th anniversary celebration of the ADA; and, courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, the pen President George H.W. Bush used to sign his name to the ADA.
More important than the objects are the stories of local citizens who helped break down barriers for people with disabilities:
• Max Starkloff, founder of Paraquad, the regional leading organization in disability and independent living services and public policy;
• Gini Laurie, known to many as the Grandmother of the Independent Living Movement, advocated tirelessly for people with polio to have a network of support in their post-polio life;
• Joan Lipkin and Fran Cohen, co-founders of The DisAbility Project, an acting project featuring both performers with disabilities and performers without disabilities to raise awareness about accessibility and discrimination;
• William Sheldon, who campaigned to have a local network caption its broadcasts to allow all viewers to enjoy the programming.
To help visitors gain a better understanding of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the gallery carefully details the legislations of four major components or titles: Title I: Employment; Title II: Accessibility to all activities of the state and local government, including transportation; Title III: Public Accommodations; and Title IV: Telecommunication.
In conjunction with the exhibition, the Missouri History Museum has launched a website, actionforaccess.mohistory.org, which offers in-depth information on the early years of the Disability Rights Movement and the Independent Living Movement, passage of the ADA, life after the ADA, and the continuing battle to raise awareness and overcome barriers. The site also offers activities for children, parents, and educators.