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A Victory for Inclusion: The 25th Anniversary of the ADA

Disability, Legislation | July, 24 2015

This July 26, individuals and organizations across the country will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  Enacted in 1990, the ADA prohibits discrimination based on disability and promotes accessibility to jobs, schools, and public transportation that would have otherwise been restricted for persons with disability. Throughout the past two and a half decades, the ADA has ensured that individuals with physical and intellectual disability were not afforded the same rights and protections as those without.

Despite significant progress, many Americans with disability still struggle with acceptance and inclusion in various aspects of life, but especially when it comes to playing sports or engaging in regular physical activity. As a member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition (PCFSN), I am proud of the work we do to address barriers to physical activity and sport participation through I Can Do It, You Can Do It! (ICDI) and Commit to InclusionExit Disclaimer.

ICDI is a national health promotion program that establishes partnerships with K-12 schools and school districts, colleges, universities, and other community-based entities to provide increased access and opportunities for children and adults with disability to be healthy and active. The program uses a mentoring approach to encourage participants to set individualized physical activity and healthy eating goals and work towards earning a Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA+). PCFSN Council Member, Dr. Jayne Greenberg, in her role as District Director of Health and Physical Literacy, has taken an extremely active role to champion and advance this work in her school district, Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Through her efforts, the support of multiple community stakeholders has been leveraged to ensure over 2,000 students with disability have access and opportunities to be healthy and active with their friends and family year round! The other 75 ICDI sites across the nation are equally as impactful in school and community settings, reaching over 300,000 individuals with disability and their families.

President’s Council member, Curtis Pride, is another powerful example of the meaning of inclusion. Curtis was born deaf and was made fun of as a kid for the way he talked. Despite Curtis’ hearing impairment, his father recognized early on that he was a talented baseball player.  He asked a local club if Curtis could play tee ball. The club refused to accept him because of his disability. Prior to the ADA, stories like this were not uncommon, and disability was used to discriminate. The club did eventually allow Curtis to play, and he went on to have an eleven-year career in Major League Baseball! Curtis is now creating new opportunities for inclusion as the head baseball coach at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC.

Curtis’ story and accomplishments underline the need for inclusion. As Olympian and Council Member, Caitlin Cahow, stated during a recent panel discussion on sports and health at Harvard, “You have to first have the opportunity to play sports in order to reap the benefits.” Many people have not been afforded the chance to reach their potential or experience the benefits of sport or regular physical activity. I believe that regardless of who you are, where you are from, or your ability level, you have a right to play, to grow and to be great. I am sure fellow Council member, Anthony Robles, would agree—he has also experienced the power of the ADA and how inclusion can enable us all to be unstoppable.

As I reflect on the positive impacts that the ADA has made on our society, I cannot help but mention the Special OlympicsExit Disclaimer.  Tomorrow, July 25th, will be the kickoff of the 2015 Special Olympics World GamesExit Disclaimer in Los Angeles, California. I can’t think of any better way to celebrate the ADA than with an amazing showcase of athleticism from 7,000 athletes with disability from around the world and First Lady Michelle Obama as Honorary Chair of the World Games! As a board member of the Special Olympics, an Olympian, and a champion of inclusion, I am so proud of the work Special Olympics has done to facilitate access to sport for individuals with disability over the past forty years. Certainly, with the addition of the Unified Sports Program, Special Olympics has truly embraced inclusion by opening the doors for individuals with both physical and intellectual disability to play on teams together with individuals without disability. From its foundation in the backyard of Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s home to a movement of four million people strong—Special Olympics will only get better!

Through the triumph of Americans with disability and by committing to inclusion in all physical activity, obesity and nutrition programs and policies, we can continue to help children and adults with disability around the world realize their full potential and achieve their dreams.  Our collective efforts reflect so much progress. None of which could have been possible without the ADA.

While there are many children and adults with disability who do lead an active lifestyle and play the sports they love, there are still so many that have not had that opportunity. We hope you will join us in our efforts to promote increased access and opportunities for physical activity and sport participation for individuals with disability through ICDI and Commit to Inclusion. E-mail us at ICDI@hhs.gov to learn more about ICDI, and make the commitment to inclusion at www.committoinclusion.orgExit Disclaimer!

As we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the ADA, we are honoring this historic milestone and a victory for inclusion. We know that the next 25 years promises to shine even brighter!

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